We are Never Alone (2016) | Made in Prague Festival 2016
NIKDY NEJSME SAMI | Director: Petr Vaclav | Cast: Karel Roden, Lenka Vlasakova, Miroslav Hanus, Zdenek Godla, Klaudia Dudova | Czech Republic/France 116min
Director Petr Vaclav’s latest film is a provincial drama full of passion, violence and mental health issues. The characters could be straight out of a Sartre play and Vaclav certainly asks many existential questions.
Zena (Vlasakova) runs a grocery shop in a small town where he lazy hypochondriac husband is her husband (Roden) is out of work and makes life for Zena and his two sons a living nightmare. He befriends his prison guard neighbour, Zivatem, who is a racist neo-fascist. Driven out of her mind by her husband, Zena falls in love with the local brothel owner (Godla), who himself is obsessed by one of his girls, the pouting Sylva (Dudova) – who in turn is still in love with her husband (and father of her daughter), who is in prison.
To make matters even worse, Zena, after a one-off romp with the brothel owner, decides to become a prostitute herself. The adult characters here are totally out of control and this disturbance filters through to their children: Zena’s oldest son, and Zivatem’s boy (who feeds his father’s paranoia with putting dead animals outside their house). They take great pride in wanting nothing to kill their fathers and discuss this loudly during hikes in the countryside. And when the tension becomes unbearable, violence is the only way out: Zena’s oldest shoots his grandfather, a stingy emotional cripple, and then her husband and his friend Zivatem shoots the brothel owner for having led Zena astray. As a final twist, Zena’s youngest pockets the money from the body of the man his father helped to kill – and sets off on a journey as a blind passenger on a HGV.
We are never Alone is certainly wild and passionate, but the characters are entirely believable: stuck in the middle of nowhere with no love life to speak of, the adults opt for violence, physical and psychologically. And their mostly neglected children follow their ‘role models’. The characters here are always on the move creating a frenetic energy. But they invariably return – even the middle-aged Zena on her Vespa. Whilst Zivatem looks back fondly to communism – he preferred the authoritarian regime to democracy – the other characters – apart from Zena – are totally without any values – apart from wanting to get rich quick. They are soulless materialists, desperate to exploit each other.
DoP Stepan Kucra creates an eerie atmosphere, his images changing regularly from black-and-white to colour and back providing ghoulish world in which the buildings are as decayed as these human souls: the environment mirroring the moribund population, washed-out, bled dry of any colour. The assembled cast is impressive, with Vlasakova’s Zena a towering performance. A brilliant ride on the wild side from the Czech Republic.
UK PREMIER AT THE BARBICAN | 30 NOVEMBER 2016 | Berlinale Review