Monday, November 5, 2012

Women in Film: Věra Chytilová

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Half Feminist Filmmaker, Half Devoted Mother

I just sat down and watched Věra Chytilová's magnum opus Daisies/Sedmikrásky (1966) followed by a documentary on the director featured on the 'Second Run' edition of the DVD. As reputed, the film was impressive. A definite contributor to modern surrealist cinema and its existence within the Czech New Wave. In nature, Daisies is similar to its successor, Fruits of Paradise/Ovoce stromů rajských jíme(1970). Both carry a sense of foreboding while the characters are eerie and strange in their behavior. Chytilová delightfully shocks and pleases us, she is a rebel with a cause and that cause is to fight against restriction, the restriction of her time. She is disinterested in safety or in the momentary well-being of her audience. Chytilová is a concept artist, experimenting with the macabre and producing simple stories with a twist--she mentions in the documentary that it doesn't matter what story you tell, it is the way you tell it. It was so unfortunate to see that her children, now in their thirties and forties, do not share the same passions as their remarkable mother. Her son, depicted walking away from the camera throughout the documentary, wishing not to be filmed. Yet, Chytilová persists in asking him to collaborate with her on future projects, only to receive blasé responses (whereas I'm sitting there thinking "pick me, pick me!").

Daisies portrays a series of acts in which two young women, both named Marie, rebel against the system. They trick old men into buying them expensive meals, making them believe that they will sleep with them in exchange for champagne and cake, only to force them onto a train heading out of town. In another scene, they drink an obscene amount of alcohol only to be thrown out of a cabaret club. They have free love, steal, fight with each other and cut holes in their bed sheets. But the biggest act of all occurs at the end when they bombard an empty dining room--all but food. The Maries destroy and devour all the opulent dishes before resorting to a food fight and dancing in their underwear on the table--sounds like fun to me! (Oh and the utter absurdity of this film being band for the reason that it "depicts food wastage". Food shortage in a Communist backdrop was firstly a matter of the government itself exporting goods out of the country).

In the end, after the girls are punished, they return to the dining room to clean up. As they sweep the table with a floor broom and place the broken dishes in place, they are heard whispering: "if we're good and hard working we'll be happy". After all their 'hard work', they lie down on the table only to be crushed by a chandelier. And what the hell does this mean? Probably that conforming and following order is equal to death. Chytilová, after being kicked out of film school for her 'controversial' approaches, attempted suicide, because for her it was either filmmaking... or nothing. Perhaps it is a reference to this segment of her life, perhaps not. Nevertheless, Chytilová is an inspiring woman and without a doubt the Agnès Varda of New Czech Cinema.