Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Vera Chytilova’s 1966 film Daisies is an incredibly peculiar modernist film out of the Czech new wave. She distinctively explores film as a medium. It might be best to look at Daisies as a film collage. Chytilova uses experimental editing techniques, which include numerous montage sequences, nonlinear editing, and several discontinuities. The film also goes through a series of color and tint changes. One might question the arbitrariness of her meddle with colors; however, it appears to represent, for the viewer, the artificiality of film.

Several times throughout the film she makes us conscious of the fact that the film is precisely that, just a film. An instance of this comes when the two main characters, Marie I and Marie II, use their scissors to not only cut themselves apart but also the film itself apart. Scissors are a reoccurring symbol; the main characters use them to cut food, sheets, paper, themselves, etc. The scissors are able to edit, erase, cut and create anew. The objects and images, which are cut out or cut up, are then brought into a new context. For example, one Marie cuts a picture of a steak out of an advertisement and eats it; she takes a picture and turns it into food. Whether or not it has nutritional value is irrelevant. What is important is that Chytilova questions the use and practicality of everyday things such as food, magazines, or even gaudy dinnerware.

Her excessive use of absurd and or arbitrary objects can be read as Dada inspired; however, this can also be read as an experimental exhibition of the symbolic. The film opens with a machine that’s running interspersed with war footage. We closely examine the cogs of the machine, and its rhythm. What is this machine, and furthermore, why is this combined with war footage? It seems to me that Chytilova is hinting at the communist ideology; she shows how individual cogs work together, much like people of the “group” should in communist ideology, to achieve a common output. This machine is purposeless, and arbitrary; however, when this juxtaposed with the communist system it reflects how many of the people worked together in the system, the "cogs", did so for no purpose at all but to work for the sake of working. It is through these vague metaphors and symbols that Chytilova inspires the viewer to look for deeper meaning in the film. This isn’t the only method to which she approaches the film; she also includes multiple sequences that have the main characters out with men of the bourgeois. Through these sequences she exploits the bourgeois, and has the main characters trick and use them emotionally, economically, and presumably sexually for their own good.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Closely Watched Trains

Juri Menzel, among other Czech film directors including Milos Forman, is a key contributor to the Czech New Wave. This new wave of art films comes in period after the French New Wave. These Czech directors, Menzel included, emulate the same urge to change as occurred in France several years prior. This newly found liberalization, which is largely influenced by the new lightening of control (namely less censorship) over the arts, begins in the mid-1950s. It is in this new wave of cinema that plots often contain strange, and dark humor. The films contain a distinct quirk about them, mostly because they write their many characters to have eccentric habits.

In Closely Watched Trains Menzel melds comedy with pathos. For young Milos it is a constant struggle with his sexuality. He’s confronted by his own physiological dysfunction, premature ejaculation, which he thinks prevents him from becoming a man. This film responds to the call for identity. At a time when the political system influences people to focus on the group, as opposed to the primary focus being the individual. Menzel turns the mirror back onto the people to reflect the many issues involved in daily life. Although the story surrounds the life of Milos, the main character, we’re introduced to a large number of characters. We are not only introduced to these characters but we also get a feel for their quirks; we begin to understand their habits, their interests, what makes the tick, etc.

The story never really becomes completely unordinary. And the plot never becomes unbelievable. However, when Milos goes to the brothel to commit suicide we finally get a glimpse of that mordant, and almost absurd humor. This melancholic humor resonates throughout many Czech films. Suicide in the youth culture also appears to be significant. In both Closely Watched Trains and in Forman’s Loves of a Blonde the main characters are both unsuccessful at committing suicide. Is this to suggest a suicide epidemic in society at the time? Or might this be referring to the generation as being lost, to the point where they cannot even control the extent of their own deaths. These Czech new wave films are particular about their content material, which limits them to a very dark but conspicuous humor that mimics the issues that are sad, and possibly embarrassing, but most of all they are real.

Knife in the Water

In Roman Polanski’s drama Knife in the Water power is strangely and subtly expressed as a dominating theme. The story begins when Andrzej and Krystyna pick up a young hitchhiker. The story opens up with questions about trust and power. Do they trust this man that they’ve just picked up? In the car ride to the docks Polanski focuses on many details, which set up the film’s psychological eccentricity. He uses silence, close up shots, and subtle gestures between characters to introduce the obscure issue of power between individuals. The three character are separated by their age, gender, and different classes.

Once Polanski takes us away from the docks, he also takes us away from domestic issues. As a statement Polanski limits himself to three characters. Throughout the film Polanski has us questioning the role of each character, wondering who is in control. Andrzej uses his confidence to exhibit his reign of power over the two others. However Krystyna slyly assert herself in areas she sees necessary, taking control over situations she’s particularly interested in. For instance, her affair with the young hitchhiker reaffirms her autonomy over her husbands subtly domineering role. The young hitchhiker deceives the man, and presumably has an affair with his wife. These three people feed off of one another for power. This could be a metaphor about society on the whole. Each of the characters are divided by three factors: sex, age, and class. The issue of power between the young and the old generation shows, as Krystyna mentions, how the younger generation is trying to emulate the older generation; the goal of course is to try and achieve success, and more importantly power, which comes from money.

Power is defined through the sexuality of each character. Andrzej asserts his power using commands of dominance, which are exhibited in his mannerisms. It can be suggested that he uses an excessive amount of dominance to because he impotent in other areas of his life. Krystyna uses sex as a way to reassure herself of her own autonomy. She is able to deceive her powerful husband, and use the young hitchhiker for her own pleasure. The young man also uses sex to show that he has what Andrzej has, and by fulfilling Krystyna he is taking Andrzej’s dominance away, and using it for his own power and personal esteem. The knife is a reoccurring phallic symbol that represents the competition between characters. When the knife finally falls in the water it is then that each character resolutely changes their roles. Andrzej is no longer making commands; he’s busy trying to find the young man. Meanwhile the young man and Krystyna are exploring their dominance (which comes from their sexual autonomy) over Andrzej.

Bad Luck

Bad Luck is Polish director Andrzej Munk’s slapstick comedy, which addresses many social and political issues. Through his sardonic lens he focuses on and brings into perspective the social and political implications of conformity. He effectively portrays anti-Semitism in the Polish society, linking humor to the amoral position. Munk uses this bleak history in combination with comedy in order to oppose the Polish tradition of story telling. Instead of bringing light to a story about nobles, he uses a common character with a humorous role.

Munk deconstructs the Polish myths of heroism. The main character, Piszcyck (Bogumil Kobiela) who is your “average Joe”, goes through great lengths to assimilate; his futile attempts often times lead to a mistake or disaster. Munk demonstrates through Piszcyck’s oblivion that life can exist without politics; this in many respects is a type of resistance, which takes the audience away from the historical atrocities and tragedies. Piszcyck, however, is unlike the majority because his sincerity is exaggerated. Munk captures the pother of Piszcyck, who is too blind to see his disasters are not because of fate. Instead his misfortune is due to his frequent lying, hyper-sincerity, and his indecisiveness. Throughout the film he’s confronted with situations that require him to take one side or the other, however, he doesn’t autonomously (or consciously) choose a side or a path. For example, when Piszcyck attends a political rally, one group is pro-government and the other fascist, he finds himself alternating between groups, yelling and rooting. Piszcyck’s position is often times based on chance.

The audience will never know whether or not Piszcyck’s accounts are accurate, or if he is exaggerating the truth. But it is possible to assume, from his narcissistic and mischievous behavior and the frequent contradictions in his stories, that some of his past is also shrouded in fictional details. As a statement this suggests that people should question the veracity of stories. The film also questions the validity of fate, and more specifically how much so does fate influence a person. Piszcyck’s story, which asks for pity, in this case from the prison warden, instead shows that fate hasn’t burdened his past but rather it is all of the lies and indecisiveness that has affected his history.