We Have Never Been Modern

Czech Republic | 2023 | 117 min. | Matěj Chlupáček

Shot in luxurious 35mm, Matej Chlupacek’s taut thriller about the tension between tradition versus progress concerns a factory owner’s wife who discovers the body of a stillborn intersex baby and takes the investigation into her own hands against a bigoted police force.

Upon the discovery of a stillborn intersex child, the concept formerly known as hermaphrodism is brought to the forefront of a budding town in 1937 Czechoslovakia. Helena Hauptová (Eliška Křenková) left her parents and medical education behind to help build a city and family in Svit with her husband, Alois Haupt (Miloslav König). She takes a backseat to Alois’ ambitions and authority; he’s the factory director, and the all-male staff refuse to take Helena or her concerns and theories about the infant seriously. Her medical background and fact-based approach aid unlearning biases quicker than everyone else’s interest; men surrounding Helena prefer to place blame on communists from Moscow than conduct an investigation. The cinematography mirrors her change of heart when Svit’s luscious countryside seeps into Helena’s imagination, where she conflates intersex research with botanical animations. During these idyllic states, the score is dreamlike, but as Helena’s real world falls apart, sounds shift and even swallow an entire scene with its drumming. Her learnings on intersexuality completely transform the story into an isolating character study. Instead of cowering from loneliness, she bears the responsibility with valor and poise. In moments reconciling with truth, she breaks the fourth wall. When Helena looks to the camera, We Have Never Been Modern points to the audience with a question if we, almost a century later, are so different.

—Selena Calacat

  • Original Language Title: Usvit
  • Director: Matěj Chlupáček
  • Principal Cast: Eliska Krenková, Miloslav König, Richard Langdon, Martha Issová, Milan Ondrik
  • Country: Czech Republic, Slovakia
  • Year: 2023
  • Running Time: 117 min.
  • Producer: Matěj Chlupáček, Maja Hamplová
  • Screenplay: Miro Šifra
  • Cinematographers: Martin Douba
  • Editors: Pavel Hrdlička
  • Music: Simon Goff
  • Website: Official Film Website
  • Awards: Thessaloniki International Film Festival 2023 (Best Actor)
  • Filmography: Touchless (2013)
  • Language: Czech
  • Has Subtitles: Yes
  • International Sales: LevelK