Eighty Letters: Meaningful Monotonousness in 1987’s Czechoslovakia

Imagine you are a fourteen year old boy in Czechoslovakia in 1987. You wake up with a panicky feeling and you call out for your mom. She doesn’t reply. You sit up in your comfy bed wondering what to do. You breathe in deeply and hold the breath for 30 seconds, and then release the air slowly in hopes to calm that beating heart. You sit and wonder again. Feeling a little better, you decide to get out of bed to look for your mom. You walk in your pajamas through the house, yelling, “mommy”. She’s not home. What to do? What to do? You realize where she could be, so you rush back to your room and change into your day clothes. You put on your shoes, grab the keys and leave. You make certain you lock the front door after you exit.

This is the opening sequence of Eighty Letters. Through the perspective of the teenage boy, Eighty Letters take us through a specific day and memory of filmmaker Václav Kadrnka. Kadrnka, then a teenager, tags along mom as she runs around town dealing with Czechoslovakian bureaucracy. Dad has been defected to England and mom is trying to apply for emigration to reunite with him. Mom’s day is planned out, fast pace and verbal. When she is not running errands, she writes long letters to her husband. In contrast to mom’s day, young Kadrnka’s is slow, mundane, silent, and inactive. Young Kadrnka spends the day waiting for mom. He watches people and look at things in his surroundings.

Like my first paragraph, this film illustrates every little movement and moment Kadrnka experiences. The images are descriptive. We are shown a wide shot and then a close up of the object Kadrnka is focused on. We are then forced to look at it for long periods of time (approximately 30 seconds) as if our eyes are lingering on the object, making sense of it. The images, the experience, and the film’s monotonousness are not what we would expect to see in 1987 under the Czechoslovakian communist regime. As Václav Kadrnka explains, “I am not trying to shock in order to attract attention. My intention was to film someone who is loved, and try to portray his sadness, which is white, silent and still, like my film. And with no end.”

Eighty Letters is Václav Kadrnka’s first feature film. In 1988 he immigrated to United Kingdom, but returned to Czechoslovakia in 1992 to study film. His student films have won many awards in international and local film festivals.

Athena Wong

Eighty Letters (Osmdesát dopisu)
Czech Republic
Directed By: Václav Kadrnka