A short excerpt from the booklet essay by Carmen Gray.
When Věra Chytilová died last year, her legacy was recognised in obituaries and tribute screenings that noted the dazzling innovation of her work as a Czech New Wave pioneer and her uncompromising decisions within a decidedly male-run profession. (Chytilová had trained at famed film school FAMU, where she was the only female in her class and from which the politically trenchant orientation of the New Wave had formed). This appraisal largely honed in on her early masterpiece of dynamic, free-spirited surrealism – Daisies (Sedmikrásky). A playful torrent of tinted filters, stylistic ruptures and spontaneous movement, Daisies was the most formally daring film of the Czech New Wave. A vibrant decimation of staid societal gender expectations, Daisies was aligned with what the majority of Chytilová’s contemporaries regarded as a more serious and urgent project: citizen dissent against communist realities. It was feminist dynamite - slipped in with the package in a central European society in which the activism of feminism was generally ridiculed or belittled, if it entered the public conversation at all.
Fast-forward a few decades to Traps (Pasti, pasti, pasticky). Made in 1998, its less experimental form and its bawdy, supposedly masculine humour disappointed some audiences. But it’s far from the work of a filmmaker who’s been mellowed to act nice to placate her detractors. In fact, if we read it as the film of a director as committed as ever to destabilising oppressive conventions from within, we find a valiant continuation of the subversive vigour that characterised her early career. Like Marie I and II of Daisies, the heroine of Traps protests, and protests in such a way her revolt is not at risk of assimilation. She goes to an extreme that – as all extremes do – alarmed audiences for outwardly resembling self-destructive nihilism in hurtling toward an outer realm of crime, violence, and death. But these films are fables to question accepted systems rather than prescriptive models for action. The women go all the way in abandoning decorum because the decorum they live within is an empty hypocrisy that offers nothing.
Even by the time of Traps, Chytilová remained opposed to self-identifying as a “feminist”. In a much-quoted Guardian interview from 2000, Kate Connolly asked whether she considered herself a feminist only to have her line of questioning slammed as “primitive”, as Chytilová countered: “Is your newspaper a serious one?” The exchange, in which the director goes on to align herself with a rule-breaking “individualism”, clearly riled the journalist and the article is bristling with sarcasm. But it’s instructive in hinting at a complex pressure Chytilová and the few other female filmmakers of her region and era (Hungary’s Márta Mészáros, while producing work with strong feminist concerns, also rejected the label) fought to establish themselves amid.
In a climate as hostile to feminism and with professional female comrades few or far away, it seems Chytilová resisted defining her work through labels, instead maintaining its vibrant multivalence – a multivalence less conducive to the pre-judgment of stigmatisation. Instead of aligning herself with the imported western term “feminist” she sought to be free of all potentially reductive slogans and associations, and left the truths within her films to speak for themselves.
It’s the perfect time for a push for the rest of her work to become more accessible, especially as it sheds more light on her mode of operation as a stealth radical in regard to feminist values, decimating received gender roles even as she resisted any labelling that might further pressurise her positioning as a dissident filmmaker under siege by a climate of censorship.
Carmen Gray's 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
The Geek Show by
Electric Sheep by Alison Frank
Peek-a-Boo by Didier Becu
Cinehouse by Ian Schultz
DVD Beaver by Eric Cotenas
The Arts Desk by Tom Birchemough
CineVue by Ben Nicholson
Eye For Film
by Amber Wilkinson
NoRipCord by Kai Lancaster
Sight & Sound by
by Nathaniel Thompson
Starburst by John Townsend
Cinema Eclectica by
(i) Angry young girls: Gender representations in Věra Chytilová's Sedmikrásky and Pasti, pasti, pasticky
(ii) Bones, bones, bone-eater... Vera Chytilová's Pasti, pasti, pasticky by Jaromír Blažejovský
(iii) Hitchhiking: Part I, The Perils - Chytilová's Pasti, pasti, pasticky by Andrew J Horton
(iv) The Guardian: Věra Chytilová obituary
(v) Defiance and compassion: the films of Věra Chytilová
(vi) Dazed & Confused - the (d)A- Zed of Věra Chytilová