Those who have to bite their tongues to keep from rebuking the indulgent parents of misbehaving children in supermarkets may find blood trickling from their mouths during Erika Hníková’s “Every Single Minute,” a Czech documentary following a few months in the lives of Michal and Lenka Hanuliak and their son Miško. Not that Lenka and Michal are raising a troublemaker; Miško is, so far, a pretty much model child, the product of the hyper-invested parenting of two people who firmly believe childrearing is a science — measurable in stats, charts and gold stars — not an art.
Michal and Lenka are borderline fanatical proponents of a childrearing philosophy known as Kamevéda. The main tenet is the absolute prioritization of the child’s rigorous developmental program over every aspect of the parents’ lives: Every single minute, the child must be put before friends, interests, professional ambition, other family members, “even yourself,” says Michal firmly. As the film begins, Miško, who has been raised from birth — actually before, if the home video of Lenka’s pregnant belly is any indication — according the Kamevéda system, is three years old. And in between swimming, hockey practice, skiing, piano lessons, endurance training, tennis, bike riding, bilingual language games (Lenka speaks to Miško in German, Michal in Czech) and basketball training — all of which he does with one and often both parents — he is learning how to do a chin-up.
There is a distanced quality to the photography from Šimon Dvořáček and Lukáš Milota, who instead of using handheld images more expectedly — to create dynamism and intimacy — sit steady, a little back from the action. The carefully composed stillness emphasizes Miško’s smallness against the giant flight of stairs he trains on in a park nearby or the faint absurdity as he star jumps through the picture alongside his father. And the clean lines and cool palette suit the subjects, who live in an immaculate modern apartment with the kind of kitchen that orange juice commercials are shot in, and nothing on the walls.
At first what is so striking about the method is the emphasis on the physical, with Miško training, and expected to excel, in every conceivable sporting activity. Michal anxiously scours YouTube for videos of 4-year-olds who might be faster skaters, and every time we return to the recurring motif of those daunting, “Rocky”-style steps, whichever parent is running alongside him urges him to beat his previous time. Perhaps it’s not surprising, given that Kamevéda’s founder, to whom the parents sometimes chat over Skype, raised one of the Czech Republic’s most prominent ice hockey stars using the method. But still, the relative paucity of scenes of Miško reading or playacting or examining caterpillars or whatever — the more sedate activities that young children usually engage in — does raise an eyebrow.
And that’s before the most insistent unease develops: the absolute absence of children of his own age in Miško’s life. At his fourth birthday party, there’s an unnamed boy in the background, listlessly playing with a ball while Miško is applauded — and awarded a Kamaveda “star” — for singing a song in English for the assembled adults. The only other time we see him with his peers is when Miško competes in a Kamevéda Sports Day event, and there is again, zero interaction. Other kids are solely markers of Miško’s own superiority in the 4-year-olds’ pull-up competition.
It’s hard to see how successfully Kamavéda could be applied to a family less well-off than the Hanuliaks (“You’re lucky,” says Miško’s grandmother to Lenka, “You’ve always had money and always will”), or to one less willing to embrace traditional familial roles. Michal works in a bank, which is presumably how they can afford all that private time on those empty ice rinks and tennis courts. Lenka is the homemaker, often shown mopping the glassy floors of the apartment at the end of another day’s crammed program of activities, once Miško has gone to bed.
There is no doubt that the Hanuliaks love their son, and that Miško is happy. But given that everything here is a teachable moment and the lesson is always one of maximizing, winning, achieving and success (Miško spots a homeless man going through the trash, and Lenka quickly uses him as a demonstration of a man who “doesn’t work hard, didn’t train”), it’s sobering to think how this will all work when Miško goes to school. When he starts hanging out with children who haven’t been programmed to think chocolate is disgusting and carrots are “yum”? When, God forbid, some other kid turns out to be better than him at something? Hníková’s absorbing, intelligent, subtly provocative film resolutely avoids passing judgment on the wisdom of raising a boy in the bubble of his parents’ undivided attention; just see if you can do the same.