The characters presented by Czech director Petr Václav in We Are Never Alone start off miserable and only get worse. There’s no consolation to be found in a brutally unhappy drama that even manages to use the odd flash of humour to bring them low. A fragmented groan of despair sounds from the start, echoing ever louder until what little everyone had to hold onto in a small Czech town has been torn away.
Václav starts in black and white, moving between three groups of people, most of them unnamed. Czech star Karel Roden blisters unpleasantly as a hypochondriac firebrand convinced his last days are approaching. He staggers around the streets, sifts through his own shit and aggressively berates his two children and wife (Lenka Vlasakova) for imaginary indiscretions. She works in a convenience store, so downtrodden a blank expression is the best she can manage. The only ray of hope, an insidiously damaging one at that, is Milan (Zdenek Godla) who works at the local brothel and drops in with one of the employees, Sylva (Klaudia Dudova), a drunken mess who won’t sleep with him, preferring to wait for her imprisoned boyfriend and father of her child.
Miroslav Hanus’ racist prison guard, tormented by his young son who takes to leaving dead animals outside the window, completes this messy group. Gradually they intermingle, Roden and Hanus forming a friendship based mainly on haranguing modern standards, and Vlasakova embarking on a depressing affair with Godla. When they sleep together he’s brutally clear he cares little for her compared to Sylva. This in turn sends Vlasakova spiraling into the life of a prostitute in a mistaken attempt to truly win him over.
We Are Never Alone isn’t really built around narrative, preferring to hop between the protagonists as they sink further into the mire. The initial black and white switches to colour, than back and forth a couple of times for no particular reason, though it’s certainly striking. The cinematography is sharp throughout, capturing rusting farm equipment, chipped apartment walls and the perpetual look of unhappiness plastered across every face.
Hanus is used as the vehicle to most obviously address the ills of the nation, though in this he himself, and the views he holds, are presented as the problem. He rages at the darker-skinned Milan and even casually questions whether Vlasakova is a Jew to her husband. The kids float around underneath all the misery, sparks of hope that are worn down when death, accidental and deliberate, creeps into their lives.
The meandering approach, colour changes and sheer unhappiness make We Are Never Alone a tough proposition, more a forced march than comfortable viewing, but it’s undeniably powerful, capable of stretching the black cloud above the characters out to the audience. This leads to relief more than anything when the end finally comes, mixed with pity, sorrow and disgust.
Director: Petr Václav
Writer: Petr Václav
Stars: Klaudia Dudová, Zdenek Godla, Miroslav Hanus
Runtime: 105 mins
Country: Czech Republic