Petr Václav: "Dominated or dominating, it is through and with others that we can have a meaningful life"

The Czech director discusses his new film, 'We Are Never Alone', ahead of its UK premiere

We Are Never Alone, the new film from the Czech director Petr Václav, will be receive its UK premiere on 30 November at the Barbican Centre. Before the screening - which is part of the 20th Made in Prague festival, and organised by Eastern Europe-focused cultural collective The New Social - Jocks&Nerds caught up with Václav.

Dominated or dominating, it is through and with others that we can have a meaningful life.

Václav is one of the most prominent filmmakers of the post-communist Czech Republic. His debut feature, Marian (1996), which took the Silver Leopard at Locarno, followed a Roma boy from youth to adulthood, along the way exposing the cruelties of the communist regime and the casual discrimination. Václav returned to similar subject matter with The Way Out (2014), which was premiered at Cannes and won seven Czech Lions. This time, the protagonist was a young Roma woman in the present day.

We Are Never Alone continues Václav's exploration of his country's interest in those that live on society's edge. Set in a bleak village adjacent to a prison, it follows the mundane lives of a group of nameless, broadly unhappy people. As the film rolls on, these lives interweave in grim ways.

Jocks&Nerds caught up with Václav ahead of the film's UK premiere.

First of all, how did the idea for We Are Never Alone come about?

From the simple idea that we all live only through others. In love, in hate and in indifference, which is also a powerful phenomena. Dominated or dominating, it is through and with others that we can have a meaningful life. We rise or we can fall with them. We all fight (or not) with our determinism.

We Are Never Alone comes from my observations and from real characters, but you could describe it as a hyperbolic movie

Timeless as this idea is, I wanted to make a film about the actual atmosphere in our society. The present is a mysterious thing: we are products of our time period, by the ideas and ideologies of our time. This climate seems to us to be an invention of other people, of the political power, of the fashion and of the media. We think that we are passive, but we participate too, in spite of ourselves. My characters are like that: they are victims and co-builders of theirs worlds.

Also, I wanted to make a very different film from my previous one. The Way Out was a very realistic social drama about a Roma young mother who wants to escape from the Gypsy ghetto and make an ordinary life for herself. But the Czech society is hostile to her because she was born a Gypsy. It is a scrupulously realistic film. After that, I wanted to adopt a very different style..

Several of your film have been set in the Roma community. How do you see the present situation of the Roma in the Czech Republic, and is there any chance of improvement in the near future?

All around the world, ordinary people want just to leave in peace but need to engage in commerce in order to live. I am currently in Egypt and it is so evident here that these friendly people also need us here for commerce. People have stopped coming to the country because of a general fear of terrorism in the world, so the destiny of many people has become fragile. But how to change situations like that all around the world? With the media so prejudiced? What can we do about growing poverty, with wars which displace many millions of people, with more and more critical ecological problems that we have all around? And surely with the eventual collapse of EU? I am afraid of a “Third-worldisation” of Europe and especially of the Roma community.

We Are Never Alone uses both monochrome and colour film. Why did you decide to experiment with both?

The film is very real but not realistic. The black and white gives me the possibility to express feelings and sentiments that I couldn’t make happen with colour.

Do you feel there is a lineage between contemporary Czech cinema and the flourishing in the 1960s?

I don’t feel too much lineage between contemporary Czech cinema and the 60st. We live in a completely different world. In my film, maybe, we can see some indirect influence of sixties. My DOP Stepan and my costume designer Tereza are children of the cameraman Josef Kucera and film director Vera Chytilova who made Daisies together, for example. Of course, their influence was very strong for us. I spent a lot of time with Vera Chytilova. She was my mentor. But the 60’s New Wave was so specific that we couldn’t possibly recreate that.

Your next film, Skokan, is currently in post-production. What should we expect?

Don’t expect the eastern European urban winter, snow and mud like in The Way Out. Skokan is shot with the same non-professional actors, including Klaudia Dudova and Zdenek Godla who are also in We Are Never Alone, but Skokan is a summertime road movie! In the film, a young Gypsy is released from a Czech prison and decides to seek happiness. The film is kind of an experiment with a very small script. We started shooting in prison and we finished on a beach half way between Roma and Naples.

The New Social will screen We Are Not Alone at 8.30pm on 30 November at the Barbican, as part of the Made in Prague Festival. A Q&A with Petr Václav will follow.