Private Universe, Czech documentarian Helena Třeštíková’s latest film, records a single family over the course of 37 years, from the 1970s to the present day. It screened at the 10th anniversary of Silverdocs with little fanfare. No glossy postcards, no slick web campaign. When you spend nearly four decades creating a work of art – Třeštíková calls this one of her “time-collecting films,” according to Variety’s Eddie Cockrell – the result speaks for itself. The film documents Petr and Jana Kettner as they raise their kids amidst the historical gyrations of their country, from the era of Soviet domination – a time when, as the film puts it, “There was nothing to buy, nowhere to travel, and life was quiet” – through to the end of The Cold War and more recent developments in Europe. Honza, the Kettner’s son, belongs to a certain generation of children raised in the 1970s and 80s whose common reference points are often global: the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the passing of the Millennium, and so on. The subtly steely filmmaking decision is to avoid one specific moment in time – or one dramatic sequence in the lives of its subjects – in favor of a steady accumulation of years connected by leitmotifs and lyric patterns. The film weaves in television coverage of historical events, stamping it with a Czech impression by focusing on elements as various as the national coverage of the Challenger disaster and the ongoing career of the ubiquitous singer Karel Gott (his rendition of “Paint it Black” is available on YouTube). Space travel is used memorably throughout to suggest flights of fancy and imaginative outbursts that connect the personal with the public. The astronaut Vladimír Remek made the Czechs third into space, a point of national pride that also lends poignancy to the report, conveyed near the end of the film, of the first privately-funded excursion beyond Earth’s atmosphere. (This enterprise gives an additional twist to the film’s multivalent title, at least as it has been translated into English.) It’s sometime said that a person is “lost in their own private world,” but the film suggests that a private universe is an impossible dream.
Watch an Interview with Helena Třeštíková from the Institute of Documentary Film on Vimeo.