DAFilms is running Something Different: A Věra Chytilová Retrospective through the rest of the month.
One rather unappealing result of the era of “normalisation” was the sight of Prague’s Barrandov film studios forcing filmmakers to take on unappealing “ideological” themes. Director Věra Chytilová was, however, one of those who even succeeded in making interesting feature films by transforming subject matter from workplace environments or stories that celebrated the socialist regime’s achievements. An unyielding, provocative filmmaker, Chytilová certainly struggled with a series of state restrictions in the 1970s. Yet despite the external pressures and her internal aversion to any compromise, she created two outstanding motion pictures: Hra o jablko (Apple Game, 1976) and Panelstory aneb Jak se rodí sídliště (Story from a Housing Estate, 1979). To create the films – composed of a narrative about maternity hospital employees and a patchwork of stories about residents of a newly built Prague housing estate, respectively – she tapped actual sociological themes that fitted her critical nature. In Panelstory, Chytilová creates a tragicomic depiction of a structure that is unable to function on either a material or a human (moral) basis. The portrait of the new housing estate (Prague's Jižní město) offers a vision of a world in which the inhabitants have to face much more than just the uniformity, ugliness and imperfections of their new housing (not to mention the complete lack of infrastructure). The residents even have to cope with infidelity, lies, suspicion, unreliability and pusillanimity. In collaboration with screenwriter Eva Kačírková, Chytilová mostly concentrates on partners’ relationships. The “optimistic” life beginnings of pregnant girl Soňa are contrasted with the situations of her unsatisfied, unfaithful mother Marie and her peer Marta, who has accepted her undignified, miserable existence, a life that brings material abundance devoid of any warmth. The film’s creator enriches her multi-generational portrait by employing both amateur and experienced, professional actors. Of course, nonservile, volatile elements freely penetrate the whole structure – small brat Pepíček, who feels at home in the omnipresent chaos, and a rustic old man who tries to communicate with, and assist, the isolated residents of the housing estate. Cameraman Jaromír Šofr and editor Jiří Brožek contribute greatly to the appeal of this formally “unkempt” feature combining documentary approaches with a very idiosyncratic stylisation.
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