‘We Are Never Alone’ movie review: Karel Roden dominates stark Czech drama

There’s one real reason to catch Nikdy nejsme sami (We Are Never Alone), the latest film from Czech director Petr Václav: an off-the-wall performance from star Karel Roden that shows so little restraint that the actor comes close to matching Nicolas Cage at his nuttiest.

Otherwise, this mishmash of hot-topic themes and showy techniques (the film cuts between color and black & white, seemingly at random) is a pretentious drag, though not without interest.

A loose narrative follows a small cast of characters, neighbors and other residents of a Czech village so small its “Main” Street seems like an ironic nod.

Klaudia Dudová, star of Václav’s previous film The Way Out, plays Sylva, a brothel worker and single mother whose baby daddy is in prison. Dudová was so likable and sympathetic in the earlier picture; here, she walks through her scenes in a drugged-out daze. It’s just as well; the writer-director doesn’t give her anything to work with, anyway.

Faring better is Zdeněk Godla as Sylva’s pimp and her would-be lover who is rejected at every turn (besides Sylva, the other characters here are unnamed). Godla gets a lot of screentime but little active story; still, despite being an abusive brothel manager, he’s the closest the film gets to a sympathetic presence.

Miroslav Hanuš is excellent here as a prison guard and anti-immigrant nut who bides his time watching his neighbors out of the window. In one of the film’s more amusing subplots, which evokes some similar material in Harmony Korine’s similarly downbeat Gummo, his young son is Gaslighting poor dad by leaving dead animals outside their house.

Also good is Lenka Vlasáková as a convenience store clerk who, for reasons never really delved into, develops the hots for Godla’s character and goes so far as to volunteer at his brothel when he rejects her advances.

And then there’s Roden, playing the husband of the Vlasáková character, whose performance is so off-the-wall that he becomes unrecognizable in context if not in appearance. He plays a hypochondriac who, in one of his first scenes, is seen on the toilet examining his own shit, running it through his fingers and taking a whiff.

Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Roden, perhaps, is the most famous Czech actor currently working. He’s had featured roles in Hollywood films like Hellboy and The Brothers Grimm (typically cast as the stock Euro villain) and lead roles in some of this country’s more prominent fare, playing Jan Saudek in last year’s Fotograf and starring as Jan Masaryk in an upcoming biopic.

His performance here – which ranges from mumbling unintelligibly to shouting at the top of his lungs – is wildly uncharacteristic and incredibly watchable, the kind of go-for-broke performance that agents warn their clients about and directors try to rein in. It dominates the film, which isn’t a bad thing, turning this droll drama into outright comedy.

By the end, however – which apes Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, of all movies – Václav has raised a lot of hot-button issues without saying all that much; clearly, this doesn’t work, at least not in traditional capacities.

I liked a lot of We Are Never Alone, and in particular its irrelevant, almost anarchistic sensibilities, but by the end I felt a sense of disappointment; Václav’s previous film was such a masterful piece of work, and this one a pretentious trifle. Call it a Czech variant of lesser Takashi Miike.

Václav does get terrific performances from his cast; I only wish he gave him more to work with. Still, I can’t wait to see what the director – who took a 13-year-break between 2001’s Parallel Worlds and The Way Out – comes up with next; his Skokan is already in post-production and set for a 2017 release.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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