“A film has to have truth, aesthetic, reason, feeling and belief – because a film has to be true, exciting, necessary, beautiful and full of hope. These are the kind of films I’d like to make. But I fear that I’ll never know how,” said Chytilová as a young director in one of her first interviews. Her works are proof that with this last sentence, she was mistaken.
Today, Chytilová is an icon of European cinema, and in her films, she unceasingly searches for answers to questions that just keep coming.
The films of this enfant terrible of Czech cinema are full of satire, detachment, criticism, provocation and philosophising. They mercilessly reflect the state of society during socialism, but also today, and they focus on interpersonal relationships, often leaving viewers with a permanent grin from laughter.
The distinctive and unconventional perspective of this Czech director and screenwriter offends many, but has also earned her numerous awards.
“I consider an argument in the form of a discussion, and even raising a bit of hell to be part of being a normal person,” said Chytilová.
Chytilová was born on 2 February 1929 in Ostrava. She studied architecture in Brno. While she was modelling on the side, she was noticed by screenwriter Jiří Brdečka, who was looking for a noblewoman for the film The Emperor and the Golem. On the first day of shooting, the twenty-two-year-old Chytilová fell in love with film. She began to work at Barrandov as a clapper, script girl and assistant director, and from 1957 to 1962 she studied direction at FAMU (the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague) in the same class as the distinguished Otakar Vávra. After graduation, she began to shoot films that are today part of the Golden COllection of Czech cinema.
In the 1960s, this grande dame of Czech Film was part of the inception of the so-called Czech New Wave.
“She has always treated her themes with a pure cinematic language. Her films have at times been banned, at others tolerated. She has had to fight for each and every one of her works, and she has always had the energy and the will to do so,” said Vávra, Chytilová’s teacher.
She first attracted attention to herself with her student films Ceiling and A Bagful of Fleas. Her feature debut, Something Different, received an award at the festival in Mannheim, Germany.
In 1965, with her former classmates from FAMU – Jiří Menzel, Evald Schorm, Jaromil Jireš and Jan Němec – she shot the episodic film Pearls of the Deep, an adaptation of several Hrabal short stories. A year later she excelled with her famous motion picture Daisies, about girls who follow the motto “don’t worry, be happy”. This film earned her an award for best auteur film at Bergamo. And at the same time, it was rejected from Venice as uninteresting.
Her filming of the picture Fruit of Paradise in 1968 was interrupted by the Soviet occupation. In response, she reworked the film as a metaphor of subversion, causing her to be temporarily banned from filmmaking.
She continued her film career through the 1970s. In 1976 she shot another film, The Apple Game starring Dagmar Bláhová and Jiří Menzel. She addressed dehumanised relationships in 1979’s Panelstory.
In the 1980s she shot the motion picture Calamity, in which she cast Bolek Polívka. She also entrusted him with the main role of Bohuš in her cult film Kurvahošigutntag, which she filmed three years after the revolution. Thereafter, Chytilová continued to set her seal on films such as Wolf’s Lair, the crowd-pleasing The Very Late Afternoon of a Faun and Traps.
Her most recent feature film was the tragicomic Pleasant Moments in 2006.
In recent years, she has focused more on documentary work. Her documentary Prague: The Restless Heart of Europe, which she shot twenty-five years ago, was hailed by Vávra as a landmark of modern film.
She has also made a picture about women active in politics – Potížistky (Troublemakers), and a documentary about the part of Prague where she lives – Troja – proměny v čase (Troja in the Transformation of Time).
“Those who want to make a film have to focus on a single issue. The worst is to become conscious of what we really want to say, because each of us Is different and each of us sees the world’s issues around themselves from their own unique perspective. Every one of us can be an asset; it’s just about whether we manage to focus on what we really think and are,” said Chytilová.
On the occasion of her eightieth birthday, which she celebrated on 2 February of this year, she accepted a gold medal from the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, at whose faculty of film she studied and currently functions as head of the department of direction. Czech president Václav Klaus wished the director good health and inspiration for films to come. “I admired your films as early as the 1960s, and no less in the seventies and eighties. For me they were a confirmation that it was possible to survive that absurd twenty-year period without abandoning one’s opinions and stance, and to do something positive,” wrote Klaus in a letter.
Since 1992 Chytilová has carried the French honorary title Knight of Arts and Literature. In 1998, she was bestowed with a Medal of Merit from then-president Václav Havel. At the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, she received a Golden Crystal Globe for her lifetime contribution to world cinema. She is also a winner of a Czech Lion for her artistic contribution to Czech film.
At 16:30 on Saturday, 27.6 at the Tatra Banka Cinema, Chytilová will personally introduce her film Tainted Horseplay from 1988.
The AIDS virus is the point of departure for a study of superficial human relationships and a symbol of mortality, a circumstance which uncovers the individual characters’ essences. Three likeable thirty-somethings, Pepe the inspector (Tomáš Hanák), Dědek the veterinarian (Milan Šteindler) and the foreman František (David Vávra) merrily enjoy life, substituting love with a rotating cast of sexual partners, and it is only the danger of AIDS that reminds them of life’s worth. This film from Věra Chytilová displays her ability to extract the most powerful and salient currents of an age, and with her cinematic vision turn them into a surprisingly artful finished product.