Released in 1969, shortly after the Soviet invasion that crushed the Prague Spring, Fruit of Paradise is inevitably more sombre than Daisies, director Věra Chytilová’s most famous film, made in 1966 at the height of the Czech New Wave. Both Daisies and Fruit of Paradise centre on women who refuse to follow the rules. Yet in Daisies, two teenage girls giggle their way through their lives, refusing to take anything seriously, while Fruit of Paradise, with its biblical basis, addresses matters of life and death and is shot through with genuine threat.
The film opens with a lyrical rendition of the story of Adam and Eve. Composer Zdeněk Liška’s haunting, mysterious score combines with a mesmerising sequence of images, the slowly moving figures of Adam and Eve overlaid with close-ups of flowers and leaves. The shifting colours, absence of dialogue and emphasis on bodies in movement evoke early cinema’s hand-tinted shorts, such as Lumière’s Serpentine Dance (1896). The concern with visual innovation and pictorial composition, shared by Chytilová and cinematographer Jaroslav Kučera, is obvious, and links the film with Daisies, which Kučera also photographed. But the playful spirit of the earlier film has been supplanted, here, by a more sober and pensive form of experimentation.
After the opening sequence, the film takes an allegorical approach to the Adam and Eve theme. Key elements are still clearly identifiable: a central couple featuring a woman named Eva, an apple tree in a pastoral landscape, and a dangerous figure of temptation, here represented by Robert, a redhead in a maroon suit. Chytilová’s most obvious adjustment to the story is in the nature of the three protagonists, and the dynamics of their relationship. Josef, Eva’s husband, is a philanderer, so she is arguably within her rights to pursue a lover of her own, even if she seems ill-advised in her choice of the satanic Robert.
Eva observes, with delight, how playfully Robert interacts with other women. Having thus subjected him to the female gaze, she continues her investigation of him, making off with the key to his room. There, she finds a rubber stamp of the (appropriately demonic) number 6, which she imprints on her thigh, a scene reminiscent of Jiří Menzel’s Closely Observed Trains (1966), where signalman Hubička stamps the secretary’s bottom. Josef Somr, who played Hubička, actually does the voice-over for Josef in Fruit of Paradise, while the voice of Robert is provided by Jan Klusák, who played the similarly sinister figures of the butterfly collector in Daisies and the bullying host in The Party and the Guests.
This new Second Run DVD release also includes Chytilová’s stylish graduation film, Ceiling, a cinéma vérité-style short about the life of a young model. It also features thorough liner notes by Czech New Wave expert Peter Hames, who provides all sorts of useful and intriguing insights into both films, their background and context.