Tag Archives: Vera Chytilova

Something Different/A Bagful of Fleas

Something Different

Format: DVD

Release date: 29 February 2016

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Věra Chytilová

Writer: Věra Chytilová

Original titles: O něčem jiném (Something Different), Pytel blech (A Bagful of Fleas)

Cast: Eva Bosáková, Věra Uzelacová

Czechoslovakia 1963/1962

81/43 minutes

This new release explores Věra Chytilová’s early 1960s documentary-inflected pre-Daisies work.

‘It’s like guarding a bagful of fleas,’ says the chaperone at the textile-factory workers’ dance. The young employees jive to a rendition of ‘O Sole Mio’ with new Czech lyrics, which have special poignancy for Jana, who is about to lose her boyfriend to the army. She’s been creating trouble, both on the job and in the girls’ dormitory where she lives, boarding-school style. No smoking, no flirting, no sneaking out to the cinema, and up for work at 4:30 am – those are the rules. A subjective camera represents the point of view of Eva, a new recruit, making the audience literally share her newcomer’s perspective. We’re in her shoes as she first enters her new living quarters, where the girls stare, tease, and talk directly to the camera in close-up. We listen in on Eva’s private opinions about everything that she observes: ‘Go on, eat something, you’re thin as a rake,’ she thinks, as the dorm’s chubbiest member snacks away. ‘Strange, women dancing together,’ remarks her inner voice, as she watches her co-workers practising for the next party.

Fans of Věra Chytilová’s famously experimental and anarchic Daisies (1966) are in for a treat with another release of her work on DVD by Second Run. Last year they released two later films, Fruit of Paradise (1970) and Traps (1998), which took Daisies’ fantasy and feminism even further. This release of Something Different (1963) and A Bagful of Fleas (1962) takes us back to the beginning of Chytilová’s career.

Something Different presents a parallel montage of the lives of two women: stay-at-home mum V?ra and professional gymnast Eva Bosáková. The housewife is played by Chytilová’s friend Věra Uzelacová, with her actual son, Milda, as her naughty little boy. The athlete is shown taking part in a real-life international championship, but there are also obviously scripted sections of her story, just like the fictional narrative of Věra and her family. Their lives only intersect briefly at the very beginning of the film, in a transition from the opening sequence of Eva competing, to the living room of Věra’s house where Milda is watching the competition on TV. Chytilová’s talent for rhythmic editing, geometric framing and inventive perspective is already in evidence. Viewers might expect a film of contrasts between the mother in her private sphere and the gymnast in the public eye, but the women share a similar degree of boredom and frustration, and both briefly resist the confines of routine, expectation and isolation.

Compared with Daisies, these early films show more of the influence of documentary realism. The young factory workers in A Bagful of Fleas are non-professional actors improvising their lines; real foremen and officials preside over the Works Committee meeting where Jana is pulled up for bad behaviour. Even so, a gulf in attitude separates this from other films in the Czech New Wave, such as Milos Forman’s A Blonde in Love (1965); there’s also less of Jiří Menzel’s whimsical good humour, and more of Daisies’ knowing cynicism. Both A Bagful of Fleas and Something Different emphasise the oppressive narrowness of their characters’ situation.

Alison Frank

Fruit of Paradise

Fruit of Paradise 1
Fruit of Paradise

Format: DVD

Release date: 13 April 2015

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Věra Chytilová

Writers: Věra Chytilová, Ester Krumbachová

Cast: Jitka Novákova, Karel Novak, Jan Schmid

Original title: Ovoce stromu rajských jíme

Czech Republic 1969

99 mins

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.

Alison Frank


Traps 1

Format: DVD

Release date: 23 March 2015

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Věra Chytilová

Writers: Věra Chytilová, Eva Kacírková, Michal Laznovsky

Cast: Zuzana Stivínová, Miroslav Donutíl, Tomás Hanák

Original title: Pasti, pasti, pastičky

Czech Republic 1998

116 mins

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.

Alison Frank