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We Have Never Been Modern: Czech-ing Off My SIFF 2024 List

Posted by May 16th, 2024 No Comments »

We Have Never Been Modern (2024)
Directed by Matěj Chlupáček
Starring Eliska Krenková, Miloslav König, Richard Langdon, Martha Issová and Milan Ondrik

As viewed at the 50th Annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF)

On Tuesday, May 14, the sixth day of the 2024 Seattle International Film Festival, I only saw one film—a slow day, indeed. There isn’t much to recap since my entire day was dominated by a single screening: We Have Never Been Modern, a mesmerizing film from the young Czech director Matěj Chlupáček. At 19, he directed his debut feature, Touchless (2013), and after a decade in television and shorts, he returns with his second feature-length venture.

The film distinguishes itself early with stylish fonts, title cards, and credits, setting it apart from other period pieces set in the early to mid-20th century. The modern juxtaposition of almost music video-like post-production over stunning cinematic countryside visuals kept me glued to the screen as we were introduced to our main characters.

The opening scene is disorienting, beginning in medias res with a camera rotating from upside down to upright. We meet Eliška Křenková as Helena Hauptová and Miloslav König as her husband, Alois Haupt. This dynamic husband-and-wife duo appears to have it all, as we cut to a scene from days earlier showing the same stylish screen-filled font while they oversee their newly built factory.

Their life takes a mysterious turn when factory workers discover a deceased infant in the dirt, possessing both sex organs. The intrigue not only persists but intensifies.

However, as the plot unfolded, my initial intrigue gave way to disappointment with every twist and turn, even though I remained impressed by the vibrant cinematography and the charismatic, bratty playfulness of Křenková’s Helena. From the trailer, I anticipated a Guillermo del Toro-esque climax in the third act, but what unfolded was more akin to “the Erin Brockovich of intersexuality” than The Shape of Water (2017).

Chlupáček’s second feature is well-acted and visually striking, with a punk-rock vibe echoed through its vibrant fonts, title cards, and credits. Yet, at its core, the film wasn’t that compelling. It felt like a pastiche of Glazer’s Zone of Interest (2023), devoid of meaningful stakes or lessons. I’ll probably see this Czech director’s third film, but I wouldn’t mind waiting another decade.


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