Innovative artist, idiosyncratic filmmaker, revolutionary cultural figurehead. Vera Chytilová ingeniously fuses French New Wave with Italian neorealism, embodies an obstinate rebelliousness that gets her banned by the Czechoslovak government, employs her austere Catholic upbringing to jar audiences with unflinching philosophical questions and triumphantly leaves an eternal mark on world cinema with a simply profound filmic style.
Two dozen boldly experimental films in an artistic catalogue stretching four decades, jerking audiences into an acute existential awareness, all the while inspiring a flourishing perception of the distinct beauty and form of the world. A forerunner in her native Czechoslovakia’s burgeoning cinema scene, Chytilová ironically received little reward for her contributions to the country’s cultural climate, paradoxically finding herself constantly fighting against a wall of stern censorship throughout her directorial career. Chytilová pluckily took this stark development as a challenge, staunchly refusing to leave Czechoslovakia after its invasion by the Soviet Union in the sixties and proclaiming filmmaking in her native country to be her personal “mission.”
Chytilová’s unmistakable proclivity for philosophical exploration – as shown by her profuse filmic analyses of contemporary society and probing moral questions – can be traced back to her twenties in 1950s Czechoslovakia, during which time the young ingénue initially pursued a degree in philosophy and architecture. After abandoning her studies, Chytilová occupied herself with an array of miscellaneous work – as a fashion model, draftsman, photo re-toucher and clapper girl – before attending the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where she studied under the mentorship of distinguished Czech filmmaker, Otakar Vávra. From the start, Chytilová’s foray into the world of cinema rang loudly with the ideological disobedience and stylistic innovation that would symbolize her future films.
The young firebrand’s previous professional experience served well in her new profession as her graduate film, The Ceiling (1962), a perceptive and jolting reflection on a young model’s experience of shallow materialism and brazen exploitation, manifestly stems from Chytilová’s experience in the fashion industry. That same year, she also released A Bagful of Fleas, a satirical meditation on the Czech approach to girls’ education that possesses an original flair with the inclusion of improvisations by non-professional actors. Following the release of the duo of medium-length films, Chytilová made her inaugural feature, Something Different (1963), a dual narrative exploration of the trials faced by a full-time mother and a soon-to-be retired gymnast in their respective male-dominated worlds, subsequently winning the budding filmmaker the Grand Prize at the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival.
Undoubtedly, the virtuoso’s strikingly experimental filmmaking style gained wide international recognition – as well as notoriety – with the release of her most well-known film, Daises (1966), an avant-gardist comedy-drama chronicling the experiences of two teenage girls, both named Marie, who engage in a series of odd pranks. A landmark in Czech new wave cinema, the film heralded a pioneering cinematic development in its depiction of curiously unsympathetic characters, a disjointed narrative style and eccentric visuals elements. In itself, Chytilová considered her innovative filmic approach to work in service of her deeper artistic goal to “restrict [the spectator’s] feeling of involvement and lead him to an understanding of the underlying idea or philosophy.” Not only did the helmer’s iconoclastic film garner her a string of accolades, it also got banned from her homeland for a year.
Regardless of the significant difficulties Chytilová encountered within Czech filmmaking circles in her attempts to release her directorial efforts, three years later Chytilová successfully made her follow-up film, The Fruits of Paradise (1969), an experimental meditation on the tale of Adam and Eve that figuratively depicts their gradual corruption – itself, the final film Chytilová released in the country before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. She cemented her tenacious adherence to filmmaking with her fourth feature film, The Apple Game (1976), a comedy portraying the difficulties that a midwife faces after learning that she has fallen pregnant by doctor with whom she works at a maternity clinic – the production solidified Chytilová’s international success and reasserted her unique directorial talent.
Despite Chytilová’s win against the reactionary forces attempting to extinguish her directorial career, she constantly remained at the receiving end of the Czechoslovak government’s iron fist. Chytilová refused to back down from her self-imposed obligation as a filmmaker, famously declaring, “My critique is in the context of the moral principles you preach, isn’t it? A critical reflection is necessary”. Indeed, her transgressive attitude never failed to boldly reflect the truths of its subject matter, from a sardonic satire on bureaucracy in Panel Story (1979), which follows the lives of a group of residents in a communist-type housing block, to a wittily subversive mediation on promiscuity and casual sex in Tainted Horseplay (1988), that explores the sense of crisis that a group of young actors experience after learning that one of them has caught AIDS.
Throughout the years, Chytilová continued to employ her playfully perspicuous filmic manipulations in the production of her most standout works of the nineties, The Inheritance or Fuckoffguysgoodbye (1992) and Trap, Trap, Little Trap (1998), which together garnered her the Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival and the the Elvira Notari Prize at the Venice Film Festival, respectively. Chytilová’s final production before her death, the psychological comedy Pleasant Memories (2006), marked half-a-century’s spell of the virtuoso’s outstanding directorial expression which has rendered her a highly influential cinematic figure not only in her native Czechoslovakia, but across the world.