Nationality: Czech. Born: Ostrava, 2 February 1929. Education: Studied architecture at Charles University; Film Academy (FAMU), Prague, 1957–62. Family: Married cinematographer Jaroslav Kučera. Career: Assistant director on 3 Men Missing (Ztracenci), 1956; directed first film, Strop, 1962; forbidden to direct or work for foreign producers, 1969–76. Address: c/o Barrandov Studios, Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Films as Director:
Strop (The Ceiling) (+ sc); Pytel blech (A Bag of Fleas) (+ sc)
O něčem jiném (Something Different; Something Else; Another Way of Life) (+ sc)
"Automat Svět" (The World Cafe) segment of Perličky na dně (Pearls of the Deep) (+ co-sc)
Sedmikrásky (Daisies) (+ co-sc)
Ovoce strom rajských jíme (The Fruit of Paradise; The Fruit of the Trees of Paradise) (+ co-sc)
The Apple Game (+ sc)
Panelstory (Prefab Story) (+ co-sc)
Kalamita (Calamity) (+ co-sc)
Chytilova versus Forman
Faunovo prilis pozdni odpoledne (The Very Late Afternoon of a Faun)
Praha, neklidne srace Europy (Prague, the Restless Heart of Europe) (short)
Vlci bouda (Wolf's Hole)
Sasek a kralovna (The Jester and the Queen); Kopytem Sem, Kopytem Tam (Tainted Horseplay) (+ sc)
Mi Prazane me Rozùmeji (My Praguers Understand Me)
T.G.M.—Osvoboditel (Tomas G. Masaryk—The Liberator) (+ sc)
Dedictví aneb Kurvahosigutntag (The Legacy)
Kam Parenky; The Inheritance of Fuckoffguysgoodbye (+ sc)
Pasti, pasti, pasticky (Trap, Trap, Little Trap) (+ co-sc)
Vzlety a pády
Konec jasnovidce (End of a Clairvoyant) (role as girl in bikini)
Face of Hope (sc)
By CHYTILOVÁ: articles—
"Neznám opravdový čin, který by nebyl riskantní" [I Don't Know Any Action That Would Not Be Risky], an interview with Galina Kopaněvová, in Film a doba (Prague), no. 1, 1963.
"Režijní explikace k filmu O něčem jiném" [The Director's Comments on Something Different], in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 1, 1964.
"Sedmikrásky: režijní explikace" [Daisies: The Directress Comments], in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 4, 1966.
Interview in New York Times, 12 March 1978.
"A Film Should Be a Little Flashlight," interview with H. Polt, in Take One (Montreal), November 1978.
Interview with H. Heberle and others, in Frauen & Film (Berlin), December 1978.
Interview with B. Eriksson-Vodakova, in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 27, no. 6, 1985.
Interview with Kateøina Pošová, in Film a Doba (Prague), June 1989.
Interview with Marie-Élisabeth Rouchy, in Télérama (Paris), 16 February 1994.
On CHYTILOVÁ: books—
Boček, Jaroslav, Modern Czechoslovak Film 1945–1965, Prague, 1965.
Janoušek, Jiri, 3 Î, Prague, 1965.
Skvorecký, Josef, All the Bright Young Men and Women, Toronto, 1971.
Dewey, Langdon, Outline of Czechoslovakian Cinema, London, 1971.
Liehm, Antonin, Closely Watched Films, White Plains, New York, 1974.
Liehm, Mira, and Antonin Liehm, The Most Important Art: EastEuropean Film after 1945, Berkeley, 1977.
Habova, Milada, and Jitka Vysekalova, editors, Czechoslovak Cinema, Prague, 1982.
Hames, Peter, The Czechoslovak New Wave, Berkeley, 1985.
On CHYTILOVÁ: articles—
Boček, Jaroslav, "Podobenství Věry Chytilové" [The Parable of Věra Chytilová], in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 11, 1966.
Hames, P., "The Return of Vera Chytilova," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 3, 1979.
Martinek, Karel, "Filmový svět Véry Chytilové" [The Film World of Věra Chytilová], in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 3, 1982.
Z na, Miroslav, and Vladimir Solecký, in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 5, 1982.
Benoit, O., "Dans la grisaille tcheque: Vera Chytilova," in Cinéma (Paris), May 1984.
Waller, E., in Skrien (Amsterdam), September-October 1984.
Manceau, Jean-Louis, "Vera Chytilova a Creteil," in Cinéma (Paris), 18 March 1987.
Quart, B., "Three Central European Women Directors Revisited," in Cineaste, vol. 19, no. 4, 1993.
Elley, Derek, "Dedictví aneb Kurvahosigutntag (The Inheritance orFuckoffguysgoodbye)," in Variety (New York), 22 February 1993.
Kristensson, Martin, "Nihilismens två ansikten. Tusenskönorna," in Filmrutan (Sundsvall), vol. 37, no. 4, 1994.
Blačejovský, Jaromír, "Sedmikrásky," in Iluminace (Prague), vol. 9, no. 1(25), 1997.
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So far the only important woman director of the Czech cinema is Věra Chytilová, its most innovative and probably most controversial personality. She is the only contemporary Czech filmmaker to work in the Eisensteinian tradition. She combines didacticism with often daring experimentation, based in essence on montage. Disregarding chronology and illustrative realism, she stresses the symbolic nature of images as well as visual and conceptual shock. Influenced to some extent also by cinema verité, particularly by its female representatives, and militantly feminist in her attitudes, she nevertheless made excellent use of the art of her husband, the cameraman Jaroslav Kučera, in her boldest venture to date, Daisies. This film, Chytilová's best known, is a dazzling display of montage, tinting, visual deformation, film trickery, color processing, etc.—a multifaceted tour de force which, among other things, is also a tribute to the classics of the cinema, from the Lumière Brothers to Chaplin and Abel Gance. It contains shots, scenes, and sequences that utilize the most characteristic techniques and motives of the masters. Daisies is Chytilová at her most formalist. In her later films, there is a noticeable shift towards realism. However, all the principles mentioned above still dominate the more narrative approach, and a combination of unusual camera angles, shots, etc., together with a bitterly sarcastic vision, lead to hardly less provocative shock effects.
The didactical content of these highly sophisticated and subtly formalist works of filmic art, as in Eisenstein, is naive and crude: young women should prefer "useful" vocations to "useless" ones (The Ceiling); extremes of being active and being inactive both result in frustration (Something Different); irresponsibility and recklessness lead to a bad end (Daisies); a sexual relationship is something serious, not just irresponsible amusement (The Apple Game); people should help each other (Panel Story, The Calamity). Given the fact that Chytilová has worked mostly under the conditions of an enforced and harshly repressive establishment, a natural explanation of this seeming incongruity offers itself: the "moral messages" of her films are simply libations that enable her, and her friends among the critics, to defend the unashamedly formalist films and the harshly satirical presentation of social reality they contain. This is corroborated by Chytilová's many clashes with the political authorities in Czechoslovakia: from an interpellation in the Parliament calling for a ban of Daisies because so much food—"the fruit of the work of our toiling farmers"—is destroyed in the film, to her being fired from the Barrandov studios after the Soviet invasion in 1968, and on to her open letter to President Husák printed in Western newspapers. In each instance she won her case by a combination of publicly stated kosher ideological arguments, stressing the alleged "messages" of her works, and of backstage manipulation, not excluding the use of her considerable feminine charm. Consequently, she is the only one from among the new wave of directors from the 1960s who, for a long time, had been able to continue making films in Czechoslovakia without compromising her aesthetic creed and her vision of society, as so many others had to do in order to remain in business (including Jaromil Jireš, Hynek Bočan, Jaroslav Papoušek, and to some extent Jiří Menzel).
Panel Story and Calamity earned her hateful attacks from establishment critics and intrigues from her second-rate colleagues, who are thriving on the absence of competition from such exiled or banned directors as Miloš Forman, Ivan Passer, Jan Němec, Evald Schorm, and Vojtěch Jasný. The two films were practically withdrawn from circulation and can be occasionally seen only in suburban theatres. The only critical film periodical, Film a doba, published, in 1982, a series of three articles which, in veiled terms and using what playwright Václav Havel calls "dialectical metaphysics" ("on the one hand it is bad, but on the other hand it is also good"), defended the director and her right to remain herself. In her integrity, artistic boldness, and originality, and in her ability to survive the most destructive social and political catastrophes, Chytilová was a unique phenomenon in post-invasion Czech cinema. Unfortunately, during the last years of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, she seems to have lost something of her touch, and her latest films—such as The Very Late Afternoon of a Faun or The Jester and the Queen—are clearly not on the level of Daisies or Panel Story. Since the "velvet revolution" she has maintained her independence as idiosyncratically as ever. Refusing to take up any comfortably accommodating position, she has been accused of nostalgia for the Communist years. This would be to misrepresent her position. A fierce campaigner for a state subsidy for the Czech film industry, she cannot but lament the extent to which the implementation of the ideology of the "free market" has been allowed to accomplish what the Soviet regime never quite could—the extinguishing of Czech film culture.
She has made a number of documentary films for television as well as a 1992 comedy about the deleterious effects of sudden wealth, which was publicly well received but met with critical opprobrium. She has so far failed to find funding for a long-cherished project, Face of Hope, about the nineteenth-century humanist writer Bozena Nemcova. The continuing relevance of Daisies, and its depiction of philistinism in several registers, is surely the strongest argument in support of Chytilová's position. It is a film that shines with the sheer craftsmanship Czech cinema achieved in those years.
—Josef Skvorecký, updated by Verina Glaessner
Innovative and controversial, Vera Chytilová (born 1929) is the only significant Czech woman filmmaker and Czech cinema's first feminist director. She was a prominent member of the early 1960s Czech New Wave, which was influenced by cinema verite's objectivity and French New Wave's subjectivity and employed such techniques as improvised dialogue, amateur actors, allegory, surreal content, and choppy editing. In her work she has explored the troubles of contemporary society and has been harshly critical of human failings. Her inexorable call for morality makes her unique within the Czech film community.
A Latecomer to the Film Industry
Vera Chytilová was born February 2, 1929, in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). She was an architecture and philosophy student at Charles University in Brno for two years, followed by stints as a technical draftsperson for a chemical laboratory, a fashion model, and a photo retoucher. She worked at Barrandov Film Studios in Prague and, having discovered her passion for filmmaking, decided to enroll at FAMU, the state film academy, which she did in 1957. Barrandov refused to recommend her for admission to film school or a scholarship, but Chytilová tested without a recommendation and was accepted, even in the face of a daunting rejection rate. She studied with veteran director Otakar Vavra, who was instrumental in the founding of the film academy. Vavra, whose students included Milos Forman and Ivan Passer, nurtured an environment of open artistic growth. Chytilová attended FAMU with others who would become renowned Czech directors, including Jiri Menzel, Jan Nemec, and Evald Schorm, and they became friends who often worked on one another's films.
Chytilová made Strop (Ceiling), her graduation project, in 1962. Mixing cinema verite and formalism, it taps Chytilová's own experience to recount the story of a model who encounters exploitation and empty materialism in the world of fashion, and establishes Chytilová's feminist voice and outlook. Initially banned for its criticism of women's roles in Czech society, it won a prize at the Oberhausen Film Festival the following year. She completed her first feature film in 1963, O necem jinem (Something Different), which contrasted the lives of a housewife and gymnast through use of parallel narratives that boldly combined documentary and fiction. She was 34 years old at the time, making her a latecomer to the film industry. Some of her more experimental works are Sedmikrasky (Daisies, 1966), which follows two girls whose reckless pranks result in complete ruin, and Ovoce Stromu Rajskych Jime (Fruit of Paradise, 1969), an allegory about male-female relationships that won an award from the Chicago Film Festival. These films employ techniques such as tinting, montage, unusual camera angles, film trickery, and visual deformation.
Career Stymied by Soviet Invasion
Daisies established Chytilová's international reputation and, while it won international critical acclaim (winning the Grand Prix at the International Film Festival in Bergamo, Italy), it was officially banned in her native country until 1967 because, as a National Assembly deputy complained about scenes in which a banquet setting is demolished, it depicted a waste of food ("the fruit of the work of our toiling farmers"). In Daisies, Chytilová challenged her audience by abandoning cinematic conventions such as smooth visual style, chronology, and sympathetic protagonists. She used visual puns and witty imagery in the spirit of the artists of the Dada movement of the 1920s and made good use of the striking cinematography of her second husband, Jaroslav Kucera. The film has inspired various interpretations, parallel but not necessarily contradictory. This is true of many of Chytilová's films. Many of their conclusions are inconclusive, encouraging the audience to participate in the creation of truth and meaning.
The era of liberalization that paved the way for pioneering and radical Czech filmmaking came to an end with the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. The film industry was restructured, centralized, and tightly controlled. Unorthodox art was discouraged. Allegory and avant-garde experimentation in film were distrusted, linked with elitism and intellectualism by bureaucrats and politicians who were now in control of the film industry. Several New Wave filmmakers—including Milos Forman, Jan Nemic, and Ivan Passer—went into exile. Chytilová and other New Wave directors who stayed in Czechoslovakia had their projects "shelved," never completed or released due to political censorship. In the 1970s the film industry added a new obstacle, the "literary advisor," whose role was to prevent the making or release of problematic films. Stricter censorship, combined with the practice of shelving, obliterated the Czech New Wave.
Though not officially blacklisted, Chytilová was unable to direct or work with foreign producers for seven years from 1969 to 1976. Her scripts were either shelved or outright rejected, and she was prevented from attending numerous women's film festivals worldwide. In 1975, Chytilová sent a letter to Czech President Gustav Husák in which she explained her movies and the problems she encountered in making them. She also reiterated her socialist conviction. Because of the letter, coupled with some help from surreptitious influences, Chytilová was permitted to resume film-making. In 1976 she made a more conventional, feminist comedy about gender wars called Hra o Jablko (Apple Game). Hra o Jablko was followed by a film with an unflinching portrayal of contemporary morality called Panelstory Aneb Jak se Rodi Sidiste (Prefabstory) in 1979, and 1981's Kalamita (Calamity). All of these films caused Chytilová problems with government authorities upon their releases: the first raised eyebrows for the documentary-styled scenes of childbirth, the second depicted socialist life in an unflattering light, and the third was seen as a parable on the Soviet takeover. Prefabstory and Calamity were harshly attacked by establishment critics and were practically withdrawn from circulation because of their controversial content.
The political changes of the late 1980s and early 1990s changed the Czech film industry into one that relied on a market economy. Though the upside of the political shift was curtailed censorship, production dropped drastically in the face of severe cuts in government subsidy. The survival of Czech cinema came to depend on outside industries, including those from western nations.
Work Continued to Generate
Chytilová was inspired by theater in the 1980s. She directed a movie version of a mime play called Sasek a Královna (The Jester and the Queen) in 1987, then followed up with 1988's AIDS tragicomedy Kopytem Sem, Kopytem Sam (Tainted Horseplay), in which she worked with Sklep (The Celler), an avant-garde theater group. In addition to these satires of political and social problems, Chytilová directed numerous artistic documentaries, including Praha—neklidné Srdce Evropy (Prague: The Restless Heart of Europe, 1984); T.G.M.—osvoboditel (Tomas Garrigue Masaryk—Liberator, 1990); and Vzlety a pá (Flights and Falls, 2000). In 1983, Chytilová collaborated with Esther Krumbachova, her co-screenwriter from Daisies, on a story about a middle-aged womanizer, Faunovo Velmi Pozdni Odpoledne (The Very Late Afternoon of a Faun).
Subsequent to 1989's "Velvet Revolution," she became an active participant in public and political life and has been a staunch campaigner for state subsidization of the Czech film industry. She has completed numerous television documentary films and a 1992 comedy about the pitfalls of sudden wealth. The latter was well received by the public but scorned by the critics. Her 1998 black comedy Pasti, Pasti, Pasticky (Traps), though embraced by a small number of hardcore feminists, was largely considered a cruel portrayal of post-Communist Czech life. Chytilová continued to attract controversy: In 2000, while filming a sequence for the film Vyhnáni z ráje (Expulsion from Paradise, 2001), she, her cinematographer, and a technician were arrested by German police on charges of suspected pedophilia. The film, based on The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris, is set on a nude beach and features Chytilová's school-age granddaughter frolicking naked in the surf. A police spokesperson explained that German law prevents filming of children on the beach.
Chytilová teaches at FAMU, the national film academy in Prague. She has attempted to find a source of funding so that she can make Face of Hope, a pet project about the 19th-century writer Bozena Nemcova, but she has thus far been unsuccessful. In 2000 she was honored at the 35th Karlovy Vary film festival for her exceptional contribution to world cinema. Although Chytilová's later films are not as experimental as those from her days as a prominent force in the Czech New Wave, she is regarded as a director who managed to retain her artistic integrity while surviving the most destructive political and social upheavals, and Daisies continues to be a relevant example of the Czech New Wave at its finest.
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"Vera Chytilova," Gale Group Biography Resource Center website,http://galenet.gale.com (January 2, 2004).
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