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‘We Have Never Been Modern’ Review: A Progressive Czech Period Piece



A lacquered Czech interval piece with surprisingly topical pursuits at its core, “We Have Never Been Modern” slightly ambitiously borrows its title from a key textual content by the late French thinker Bruno Latour — by which he argued that humanity’s distinction between nature and our personal tradition is a completely trendy growth, and one we’d do finest to maneuver away from. Whereas Latour’s concepts can certainly be mapped onto a narrative that charts trendy society’s fixation on human development in opposition to its rejection of human distinction, Matěj Chlupáček’s gripping, gleamingly produced second function isn’t as tutorial as all that: Finally a humane message film planting flags for each ladies’s liberation and queer rights, this Karlovy Range competitors premiere may simply resonate with pageant and arthouse audiences away from dwelling turf.

Following intensive work in TV, shorts and music movies, Chlupáček’s return to the massive display screen arrives a decade after his precocious debut function “Touchless,” which unspooled in Karlovy Range when he was a mere teenager. A youthful brashness stays in “We Have Never Been Modern,” even except for the delicate, once-taboo subject material of Miro Šifra’s script: Arrestingly off-kilter compositions, seasick handheld digital camera strikes and stylized multimedia prospers sign the movie’s intent to interrupt from the staid conduct of a lot Czech-Slovak heritage cinema, simply as its protagonist Helena (main Czech star Eliska Krenková, from “Winter Flies” and “Borders of Love”) more and more chafes in opposition to the patriarchal, capitalistic norms of Nineteen Thirties Czechoslovakia.

The 12 months is 1937, actually, simply earlier than German occupation would shatter the glistening industrialized surfaces of the brand new democratic republic. The encroaching shadow of fascism is felt in varied characters’ deference to vehently anti-Communist, Hitler-excusing authorities, although no person’s trying too far into the long run whereas the gilded wheels of progress are turning within the current. The spanking-new manufacturing facility city of Svit is an exemplary image of this economy-first considering, constructed as it’s round an unlimited viscose plant headed up by younger, Brylcreem-slicked director Alois (Miloslav König). He’s married to Helena, a brilliant, questioning firebrand sort who has nonetheless deserted her medical faculty research to maneuver to Svit and begin a household. With their first baby due imminently — onscreen titles depend all the way down to her anticipated supply date with a jittery air of foreboding — they’re the very image of latest Czech success.

So it actually doesn’t match that image when the corpse of a stillborn child is discovered within the rubble at Alois’ manufacturing facility; that the physique has each female and male genitalia is a hushed-up element that units off feverish rumor-mongering in a small, conservative group. Keen to attract a veil over the invention as swiftly as potential, Alois complies completely when secret police brokers (Milan Ondrik and Marián Mitaš) arrive to research, even inviting them to remain at his and Helena’s dwelling. Their hasty official conclusion, pinning the blame on alleged Communist disruptors, doesn’t wash with a skeptical Helena, who begins to do some digging of her personal — and is ultimately led to frightened, naïve manufacturing facility worker Alexander (Richard Langdon), who identifies as male however has feminine reproductive organs.

The reality behind the tragedy unfolds in opposition to a tradition of uncomprehending silence on intersex and LGBT identification, with societal gaps in information stuffed by lurid assumptions and accusations. Together with her personal marriage at stake in a burgeoning tradition struggle, Helena should main a largely unsupported combat for tolerance and enlightenment in a group the place “what is traditional doesn’t need changing” is an oft-repeated mantra. (Šifra’s dialogue can go a little bit heavy on the rhetorical ironies.) Granted a couple of moments of stand-up-and-cheer verbal revolt, the dependable Krenková makes for a sternly sympathetic heroine, although the MVP right here is transgender actor Langdon, restrained and achingly susceptible as a person nonetheless at odds together with his personal anatomy, who desires to be accepted with out turning into a trigger.

Chlupáček’s stressed, roving course is suitably energizing for a narrative constructed round tight deadlines and impending catastrophe — even when, between its heightened noir styling, Martin Douba’s hyper-kinetic lensing and an imposing, typically anachronistic rating by Simon Goff (a Hildur Guðnadóttir collaborator, and audibly so), “We Have Never Been Modern” dangers feeling aesthetically overwrought, albeit by no means uninteresting. (Helena’s analysis into intersex biology is proven by way of stunning, elaborately flowering animated interludes.) In the meantime, the movie makes a substantial advantage of a pitfall widespread to many such interval items — the place the lovingly researched and rendered manufacturing and costume design feels fully too box-fresh, too unworn. Right here, that barely eerie newness is, like Douba’s super-saturated palette, wholly applicable in a damning portrait of what one billboard phrases a “town of the future” — a future that’ll come as a shock to its privileged, complacent architects.

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