Věra Chytilová was one of the Czech New Wave’s most innovative directors, best known for Daisies (1966), where the antics of two mischievous teenage girls are matched by the director’s own cheeky stylistic experimentation. Traps (1988) comes much later in Chytilová’s career, and is among her more conventional films. Where her earlier work tended to elude traditional cause-and-effect narrative in favour of a liberated, episodic structure, Traps pursues its dark satire in an inexorable succession of attacks and counter-attacks.
In her essay to accompany this new Second Run DVD release of Traps, Carmen Gray situates the film among a ‘new proliferation of mass-appeal comedies’, which Traps is clearly ‘parodying’. Certainly, with its graphic opening images of pig castration, searing attack on contemporary trends and attitudes, and broad spectrum of female characters, Traps sets itself apart from mainstream comedy’s tendency to stereotype.
The story revolves around Lenka, a country vet, who is raped by ad executive Petr and environment minister Donhal after they offer her roadside assistance. Knowing that their crime will go unpunished by the judicial system, Lenka uses her professional skills to make sure the two men don’t go on to attack other women.
Although the rape itself is more or less elided through whip-pans across the treetops of the forest where it takes place, Chytilová deftly shifts the focus by dwelling on the long struggle that precedes the attack and the debilitating nightmares and flashbacks Lenka suffers from afterwards. The large number of films that graphically depict rape wade into a dubious territory of sly titillation or sadistic humiliation. Chytilová conveys sexual assault’s true impact on women by taking a broader perspective.
Petr and Donhal’s light-hearted attitude towards rape, enjoying the struggle of one woman against two men, turns the episode into an example of why women may live their lives feeling constantly under threat. Chytilová also offers a succinct glimpse into the consequences of rape, which extend far beyond the terrifying and violent event itself, affecting Lenka’s professional and personal life. She can no longer stand the sight of breeding animals on the farms where she works, and her relationship with her boyfriend is destroyed, as she is initially afraid to tell him, then disgusted when he finds out and ‘forgives’ her for being raped.
Lenka’s cheerful professional competence prior to the attack is reminiscent of Anna’s in Chytilová’s earlier The Apple Game: the midwife, though comically clumsy at times, shines with confidence whether delivering a baby at the hospital or a calf at the farm. Although it is this competence that allows Lenka to punish her attackers, the action does not empower her. When her boyfriend learns what she has done, he says ‘I’ve never seen you like this’. ‘Maybe it’s not me anymore,’ she replies. Rather than suggesting, in the simplistic way of Hollywood, that taking the law into your own hands brings catharsis, Chytilová demonstrates that happy endings can’t truly exist in an unjust and hypocritical society.