by Allan Fish
(Czechoslovakia 1970 99m) DVD1
Aka. Ovoce stromu rajských jíme
Ye shall surely not die
p Pavel Juracek, Jaroslav Kucera, Bronka Ricquier d Vera Chytilova w Ester Krumbachová, Vera Chytilova ph Jaroslav Kucera ed Miroslav Hajek m Zdenek Liska art Vladimir Labsky
Jitka Novakova (Eve), Karel Novak (Joseph), Jan Schmid (Robert), Julius Albert,
When Vera Chytilova died earlier this year film, enthusiasts, writers and critics tweeted about the influence she had on feminist cinema. Her film Daisies was trending, but there was no mention of any of her other works. She made seventeen fictional feature films and yet most people have only seen one. Is there any other director in history of film to be remembered for just one film out of so many? Her gender undoubtedly had to have played a factor, but even then, were the feminist readings accurate? Daisies never seemed a particularly feminist work to these eyes, but rather an anarchic essay, a petrol bomb in the face of the establishment, like its two female protagonists were urinating on the desks of those in authority.
Examining her other work isn’t easy. There were periods where she didn’t work, either banned by the authorities or lacking motivation. I’ve only been able to track down three for viewing aside from Daisies. Panelstory has its moments but the sense of devilry and anarchy had dissipated as she turned 50. Her debut feature, Something Else, was certainly something else, but it still felt like a work in progress, sketches for something to follow. Then there’s Fruit of Paradise, a film that is effectively two films. The first 10 minutes or so feels like a Stan Brakhage or Carolee Schneemann experimental work, with the Garden of Eden a kaleidoscope of psychedelic topiary and Adam and Eve wandering about naked and occasionally standing like statues against trees. Portions of Genesis are read out to the inimitable Gothic chanting on the great Zdenek Liska’s score (instantly recognisable as the work of the same composer as Marketa Lazarová).
What follows after is more bizarre still. A free, formless and radical reimagining of the Fall of Man allegory set in present day. Eve eats of the fruit of what we assume to be the Tree of Knowledge, wanders off and is almost peed on by the equivalent of the serpent. Characters are buried in the sand for no reason. The devil, if indeed he really is the devil, rides a bicycle along the sands. I’d say nothing is what it seems, if I thought it really seemed anything in particular or was intended to be.
It’s a maddening work, as Daisies can be in the wrong mood. Moments are insane for the sake of being mad. It probably goes on a couple of reels too long. As it plays one cannot help but think of the work of other cinematic surrealists; maybe not Buñuel so much, but certainly Jakubisko, Arrabal and Jodorowsky. The desert setting certainly has something to do with it – so many great surrealist films feature the desert – but it’s the inherent subversiveness that runs through every frame that keeps one entranced; it’s impossible to see what’s coming next. Whatever one thinks of Chytilova’s film, it’s hard to imagine any film lover worth their salt becoming bored by it. It’s like the Genesis/Sade shot by the inmates of a modern Charenton on day release. It features adults playing kids playing adults in a cinematic sandpit. You could call it a Biblical allegory, but one senses Chytilova would be disgusted, for it’s most definitely and defiantly a political film, as well as a snapshot of the time and place, or the summer of love, of Woodstock, of the fading memory of the Prague Spring and of the moon landing. Her first film in colour, it may suffer from the same poor Eastmancolor stock that blighted several Czech classics of the period, but despite the muddiness of the prints, it’s still one of the most visually vibrant films of the turn of the seventies, ripe for colour analysis by mise-en-scène students. Without Chytilova, try and imagine Céline et Julie, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders or The Asthenic Syndrome. Only one Chytilova was never going to be enough, so I had to make room for Fruit of Paradise.