An excerpt from the booklet essay by Peter Hames.
A Bagful of Fleas (Pytel blech, 1962) is the film that brought Chytilová most close to cinéma-vérité influences but it is certainly not a documentary despite its surface appearance. It was filmed in the town of Náchod, a centre of the textile industry. The industry depended heavily on women and the factories created dormitories for their girl workers, with the numbers of women vastly outnumbering men. Chytilová’s cast consisted entirely of non-actors. As Josef Škvorecký points out: ‘The film was staged from beginning to end, but through the improvisation of the given dialogue, particularly in the scenes with the worker officials, Věra achieved an immediateness resembling Forman’s films’(Škvorecký, 1971). The situation and the setting resemble that in Miloš Forman’s A Blonde in Love (Lásky jedné plavovlásky, 1965), which was made three years later.
Like all of Chytilová’s sixties films, there is a virtual absence of conventional narrative. A girl, Eva, joins a work team and observes life at the factory – although the principal scenes are nearly all set in the girls’ dormitory. Eva’s voice is heard off-camera both interacting with and commenting on the action. The result of this is that much of the action is played to camera and in close up and that visual images are accompanied by a virtual commentary. In the process we are introduced to a range of colleagues.
Besides immersing us in a female reality far from approved stereotypes, the film is in many ways as formally inventive as her medium-length graduation film, Ceiling (Strop, 1961). In one scene conducted in virtual darkness, their disembodied voices talk about meetings (in particular, one in which a doctor talked about relations with boys). The camera circles an almost abstract space. In another, during a visit to the countryside, close ups of faces are accompanied by the sounds of birds. As in her other sixties films, Chytilová uses popular music to great effect.
The film was made for Krátky Film (the Short Film studios) and was intended to deal with social problems. Chytilová deliberately chose girls with less than perfect records, emphasising authentic language and dialect which she described as ‘untranslateable’. However, A Bagful of Fleas was not well received by the authorities. According to Škvorecký, the real foremen and officials of the Náchod cotton mills objected to her unflattering (i.e. realistic) portrayal of them, and A Bagful of Fleas was only released after a year of negotiations.
Something Different (O nĕčem jiném, 1963) developed logically from the documentary impulse of A Bagful of Fleas and the feminist elements in Ceiling. It consists of two separate stories intercut and combined. The first is a cinéma-vérité style record of the life of the champion gymnast, Eva Bosáková that follows her preparation and training while the second is a fictional study of the life of Věra (Věra Ucelacová), a housewife, recording her boredom with routine and a resultant love affair. While the two lifestyles and differing structures interact to provide a commentary on the lives and situations of the two women, they are also intercut for purely formal effect. As Naome Gilbert suggested in the second issue of Women and Film (1972), both women end up choosing the roles against which they have been fighting. The film ‘shows a studied ambivalence implying neither transcendence nor negation where the women are both subjects of their own free will and yet objects of the wills that have here-to-fore controlled them’. As Jiří Cieslar suggests, in a comparison of Ceiling and Something Different, all three women (Marta, Eva, Věra) are linked by their inner uncertainties and conflicting hopes.
Considered from today’s perspective, Something Different is a striking feature debut, a liberating exercise in the pure pleasure of film making. While possessing all the technical ‘know how’, Chytilová’s approach seems to be based on the notion of ‘why not do it this way’, that films do not have to adhere to pre-ordained rules. According to the composer Jan Klusák, who wrote the music for Ceiling, when studying at the Prague Film School, she was always arranging screenings of works by directors such as Resnais and Antonioni, yet Something Different and her later, influential, Daisies
(Sedmikrásky, 1966), and Fruit of Paradise (Ovoce stromů rajských jíme, 1969) charted their own course.
Peter Hames' complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the DVD release.
A short excerpt from the booklet
Little White Lies
by David Jenkins
Sight & Sound
by Michael Brooke
Digital Fix by Clydefro Jones
by Barry Didcock
The Arts Desk
by Tom Birchenough
The Geek Show
by Graham Williamson
The Oxford Times
by David Parkinson
DVD Beaver by Eric Cotenas
Electric Sheep by Alison Frank
Backseat Mafia by Rob Aldam
CineVue by Ben Nicholson
The People's Movies
by Ian Schultz
Cinema Eclectica podcast
World Cinema Paradise
by Dusty Somers
MovieMail by James Oliver
'DVD of the Month' at BeaverGlobal Discoveries on DVD
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
(i) The early films of Věra Chytilová
(ii) Věra Chytilová for beginners
(iii) Rediscovering Chytilová by Agata Pyzik
(iv) The dA-Zed guide to Věra Chytilová
(v) Peter Hames on Věra Chytilová
(vi) A Bagful of Fleas at Bologna 2013
(vii) In Memoriam: Věra Chytilová - Film Comment