Czech Journal: The Limits of Work – the winner of Czech Joy section

Apolena Rychlíkováʼs contribution to Czech Journal won the best Czech film at 21. Jihlava festival

Czech Journal: The Limits of Work (Český žurnál: Hranice práce, Apolena Rychlíková, 2017)

At the world premiere of Apolena Rychlíkováʼs film The Limits of Work, the air in the cinema hall was almost unbreathable. However, rest assured that most of the audience, watching the very personal testimony of the journalist, Saša Uhlová, did not mind that. The topic was her own experience with “inferior“ jobs, which, nevertheless, are very much needed in the society that pays the people who do them so little that they strive to survive. Nobody in the audience could ever imagine anything like that.

The documentary from Czech Journal cycle is not visually spectacular, as most of it is pieced together from the hidden camera footage. What is remarkable about it is the message it conveys. Apolena Rychlíková is aware that films cannot change our reality, as she pointed out in one of the latest interviews, but they can show the realityʼs rawest face, including the dark corners that usually remain unseen by a mainstream filmgoer. And that is exciting for them, especially when everything they see is comprehensible, simple and true. Also in this respect Rychlíková and Uhlová challenge the very limits of what is humanly possible.

They presented their material so simply and comprehensibly that their victory in this yearʼs best domestic production Czech Joy in Jihlava is hardly a surprise. On the contrary, it is a great possibility to open up further the discourse on poverty in a state that prides itself in a remarkable economic growth.

“Sometimes I came home and started telling something to my husband and then I just cried. And he explained to me that I was there just as an impostor. When I told him about the situations in which somebody was rude to me and he said that I should have said something. But I was there mostly as an observer,“  says the journalist who admits that it was impossible for her to keep her distance. “When you do the same movement for the eleventh hour and you are deadly tired, you can’t just keep your distance,“ Uhlová said in an interview for Czech broadcast Plus.

Uhlová was gathering the material for a series of reports called “Heroes of capitalist workˮ for A2larm magazine from January till the end of June. In September she published the series. She was employed in several jobs – in the laundry room in Motol hospital, in a firm from Agrofert holding Vodňanské kuře, in a recycling plant, in a razorblade factory as an assembly line worker and as a cashier in Albert supermarket. She was earning from 65 to 120 crowns per hour and worked up to seventeen hours a day. She seldom saw her children. Her family was not dependent on her salary though, as she received a grant to write the reports. “When I started working at the supermarket, they just raised starting salary for the new employees. They were tackling the problem with the lack of workers, you see. Therefore I was earning more than my colleagues who had been working there for a long time. I got a hundred crowns per hour. This is almost what I earn in my own job. The problem was that I had to arrange babysitting for my children, because I had to stay there late. So again, the salary was not enough,“ claims the journalist.

The documentary The Limits of Work benefits from the usage of Saša Uhlováʼs own voice and her cute rhotacism when she is reading out loud her simple journal entries that accompany footage from hidden camera, which she brought to every workplace. In this case it is a shame that the camera cannot mediate the horrible smell that would add a final touch to viewer’s feeling of a total hopelessness that fills the workplaces of people who do not believe they could ever succeed in life. Sometimes they deal with the situation with humour, other times they are on the verge of total exhaustion and destruction. Unlike the journalist Saša Uhlová, they stay at these badly paid jobs and it is an extraordinary experience for them when they can afford a subway ticket or a trip to Prague …

The Limits of Work is a meaningful film which is both moving and provoking. And by this I do not mean Uhlováʼs sporadic outbursts of leftist thinking, as she is otherwise very precise and moderate.