“The director and screenwriter Věra Chytilová, the first lady of Czech film, died today in Prague at the age of 85,” reports the Prague Post. “As a filmmaker, Chytilová already made news with her student films, Ceiling (Strop, 1961) and A Bagful of Fleas (Pytel blech, 1962), but it was her provocative 1966 film Daisies (Sedmikrásky) that made her a household name in then-Czechoslovakia, even at the height of the otherwise male-dominated Czech New Wave that included such luminary figures as Miloš Forman and Jiří Menzel.”
“She was unique in the history of Czech cinema as a high-profile director during the New Wave, Normalization, and post-Communism periods who did not pursue a filmmaking career outside the country,” notes Kevin McFarland at the AV Club. “Chytilová didn’t simply represent a female presence in a male-dominated cinematic movement; she stood out as the most vocally political and aesthetically experimental filmmaker of the bunch.”
The AP notes that Daisies “proved her reputation as a provocateur and helped establish her as an artistic force at home and abroad. Like the movies of other new Czech directors of the time, it represented a radical departure from socialist realism, a typical communist-era genre focusing on realistically depicting the working class’ troubles. The heroes of Daisies—two teenage girls—decide to get spoiled because the entire world is spoiled, and they want to have some fun. It was immediately banned before winning the Grand Prix at the Bergamo Film Festival in Italy in 1967…. Of her 20 feature movies, her major works include Fruit of Paradise, Calamity, Panelstory, The Very Late Afternoon of the Faun and The Inheritance.”
“Choleric, diabolically crazy, aggressive, ironic, sarcastic, inflexible and arrogant—just a few of the phrases used by the Czech media to describe her after she collected her prize,” noted Kate Connolly in a profile for the Guardian in 2000. “Some who know her say these characteristics stem from a bitterness she shares with others of her generation, who spent the best years of their lives working under a totalitarian regime. She describes herself as an ‘overheated kettle that you can’t turn down,’ but puts it down to impatience. ‘You always have to work as if what you’re working on could be your last,’ she says. ‘I want to move on, even if I have to crawl.’ Chytilová cultivates the art of being deliberately ruthless. ‘I have no desire to cuddle my audience,’ she emphatically states.”
“On the surface, Daisies’ assemblage of outlandish scenarios enacted by two ferociously antiestablishment figures would seem to mark it as simple anarchic slapstick, like a New Wave Marx Brothers comedy,” suggested Criterion’s Michael Koresky in 2012. “But Chytilová has called her film ‘a philosophical documentary in the form of a farce.’ … By refusing to cultivate a psychological connection between audience and character, and by confounding any sense of narrative momentum, Chytilová and her screenwriting partner Ester Krumbachová create protagonists who seem to have no future or past. Blank slates, they have been interpreted over the years variously as embodiments of healthy rebellion and the banality of evil. Either way, they are good representations of Chytilová’s belief that ‘people are primitives and aesthetes at the same time.'”
“Chytilova continued to make films into the 2000s, but Daisies remains her best-known work,” wrote Nicolas Rapold in the New York Times, also in 2012. “‘You don’t really begin working creatively until you are at a point where you don’t know,’ she said a year after making Daisies. Today her film still has that fresh, try-anything outlook.”
Update, 3/14: “In 1976, she was invited to a women’s film festival in the US to present Daisies as its opening film,” writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. “She informed the festival that her government would not allow her to attend, nor was it allowing her to direct films. International pressure was put on the Czechoslovakian government, and after her personal appeal to the president, Gustáv Husák, she was given the green light to make The Apple Game (1977). A feminist comedy, it follows a country girl, working as a midwife at a maternity clinic, who becomes pregnant by one of the doctors (played by fellow director Jirí Menzel). After almost a decade away from films, Chytilová picked up the same anarchic vein she had followed before, with striking images, many of babies, and a jokey, jazzy, jumpy style.”
Updates, 3/29: “Though Forman’s name is often the most remembered,” writes Meredith Slifkin for Film Comment, “it is Chytilová whose work stands out as the most radical, experimental, iconoclastic, and overtly feminist among her peers (not just of this new wave but perhaps of any European new wave). Her early works The Ceiling (1962), Bag of Fleas (1962), and Something Different (1963), which focus on the issues of the fashion industry, women’s education, and domesticity respectively, established Chytilová as not only an artistic force to be reckoned with, but as a female director unconcerned with assimilating with her male counterparts. Rather, Chytilová devoted herself with revolutionary fervor to breaking the conventions of female representation on screen.”
Celluloid Liberation Front for Sight & Sound: “Less homogeneous and centralized than labels usually suggest, the Czech New Wave did coalesce into a manifesto of sort in the 1965 omnibus film Pearls of the Deep (an overt homage to the movement’s literary muse, Bohumil Hrabal), which gathered together some of the era’s most significant filmmakers: Jaromil Jireš, Jiří Menzel, Jan Němec, Ewald Schorm and Chytilová. Her entry, The Restaurant, The World, was an oneiric walk though the dark side of the patriarchal altar where love is sacrificed and women held in: the wedding. Here one could already see Chytilová’s early visual signature at work, a commotion of colors and symbolic cut-ups threaded together by a freely associative narrative.”
Update, 3/30: “Brazilian audiences have recently had the pleasure of viewing Chytilová’s films in dialogue with theirs and those of others thanks to the wonderful all-35mm film series Czech New Wave Series – The Other Side of Europe, curated by Gabriela Wondracek Linck,” notes Aaron Cutler. “The series continues in São Paulo through Thursday.”
Update, 4/3: Daisies is “just about the most ticklish barrage of nihilism in cinema,” writes Fernando F. Croce.
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