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Film Review: We are Never Alone (Nikdy nejsme Sami)
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Petr Vaclav, Czech Republic/France

Shelly Schoeneshoefer interviewed Petr Vaclav at the 2016 Berlinale where he was a guest with his film We are Never Alone. In the meantime, he has finished his film Skokan scheduled to play in the Czech Republic this year. His documentary Confession of the Vanished about the Czech-Italian composer Josef Myslivecek won prizes in 2016. This is being further developed into a biography entitled Il Boemoto to appear in 2018.)

Vaclav: Everywhere in Europe, it is pretty much similar. There is this romantic notion of the Motherland linked to the romantic idea of a nation. You have two different laws, one has to do with the right of blood (Jus sanguinis) which is determined by citizenship vs right of soil (Jus soli) which gives rights to those born in the territory. This right of the blood can turn into fascism, explains Petr Vaclav. He tries to describe his view of the state of the Czech nation which is like a mad fairy tale gone badly.

Schoeneshoefer: You have these characters which are separated into three generations. Although your film focused on characters from the Roma population, I also saw a brief history of the Czech Republic. The grandfather in the film represents the old guard and what communism was like. He is closed but somehow commands respect. The others even feared him, and there is foreshadowing that something terrible will happen to him. The next generation includes a former prison guard who wants to be president, a sick man and his Roma wife, who all seem to be suffering in some way or another. They are caught between the old regime and now. Last are the children who are somewhat disturbed and damaged but still are searching for hope.

Vaclav: For me the former guard, who wants to be president, who believes that the old communist ways, was good. The sick guy who wears sunglasses doesn’t speak, so you don’t know if he agrees with this philosophy or not. It is somehow an image of Europe now that we are wearing the sunglasses not saying anything but will be dominated by the stronger people which could be the neo-Nazi group as one possibility. I wanted to show that this prison guard wants to become president. The people feel threatened by terrorism but the real danger is that they will now vote for a new fear. It is happening everywhere and the media is also helping rule us by fear. We are supposed to hide and have fear and it is happening all around the world. I think in this film everyone has fear but at the same time I wanted to show that men are weaker than the women.

Schoeneshoefer: And the children?

Vaclav: The children have to destroy the old in order to go forward. It is also important that they achieve that alone. It was hard to watch what happens to the kids but they do have a future. The one boy will come to terms with what has happened. These two boys will be alone but they will have a good loneliness. No one is an island for themselves. There is always love somewhere out there and it is important for people to know that being alone and solitude is important and this boy realizes that when he leaves to go to the seaside. My film is very symbolic but in a subtle way.

Schoeneshoefer: Your film is at first black and white and then it changes color starting with the color red. That, of course, was an emotional decision but I am not sure I understand why you decided to do that?

Vaclav: It is the love that the Roma wife has when she realizes that she has fallen in love with the Roma gangster. It is the moment, when she sees him and then decides to meet him in the night club. The color change is when you see the arm of the gypsy. First there is a shadow of a cross projected on his arm which indicates he will die and then it changes to red and then it moves to her. Then you see this red car coming and she decides she has to meet him. My producers didn’t want me to do this, but I was determined to have it like that. This is a film about my desire, so even if it is not rational I want to pursue my desire. One aspect was interesting; many of the spectators don’t even see the color because people watch so much MTV and videos that they don’t even see the color change when it actually happens. They only notice it when the car drives off. I did several tests and it was interesting to see that was how it was for most of the audiences.

Schoeneshoefer: Your use of sound was very intentional. It had this premonition that something was coming or something was going to take place. Can you explain how you dealt with sound? And can you explain about the making of the film?

Vaclav: Any music sound was only coming from a radio that was in the room. There was no film music for example and I worked hard on having natural sounds. It took me a long time to write the script. I had a difficult time with producers. I met Jan, who helped on my previous film, and Jan jumped in and helped me get this one done quickly. I went to work directly after Cannes. I wanted to do it on a very low budget, so, for example, I didn’t have a script girl and I only had one prop person. We wanted to hire this BMW car but it was expensive. So I tried a Roma friend who gave us the possibility to buy a silver Renault car for production for 700 euros and the BMW for 6800 euros which had a sun roof. That was great because we could use it to follow the woman on the moped. We also used young people who were less paid than the professional ones and we decided to work with people we like, therefore the atmosphere was great. The previous film called The Way Out had problems on the set which I wanted to avoid this time around. The only problem I had with these people was that they were not professional so I had to check everything to make sure it was ok. My idea was how to make a film with very little money and we succeeded.

Schoeneshoefer: What is essential to keep on a high level?

Vaclav: We chose the right places and we had the night club for free and I have a great cinematographer and he works normally for a lot of money around the world. But for me he was able to work with one gruffer and small lights. For a Czech film, it was half price. But you could see that or?

Schoeneshoefer: It was unbelievably well done.

So I was not surprised to hear that Petr Vaclav won the Tagesspiegel Reader’s Jury Award for this film. Although it was heavily symbolic, it was also humorous. Optimism is out there somewhere within our reach. We just cannot be afraid to make the right choices.