Speelse, anarchistische film over twee verveelde meisjes die de boel op stelten zetten. Het verfrissend radicale Madeliefjes (Sedmikrásky) van nouvelle vague-pionier Vera Chytilová houdt zich aan geen enkele regel.

Vera Chytilová maakte in 1962 al persoonlijke, controversiële films. Het rebelse Madeliefjes uit 1966 volgt twee meisjes die zich vervelen en besluiten met stelen, liegen en onrust stoken verder door het leven te gaan.
De film werd gefinancierd met geld van de staatsfilmstudio, maar werd bij het uitbrengen in de ban gedaan door de autoriteiten. Zogenaamd vanwege de vele scènes waarin met eten gegooid wordt. De onderhuidse kritiek op het regime is waarschijnlijk meer bepalend voor de afwijzende reactie.
Na de Russische inval in 1968 maakten de Tsjechische autoriteiten het Chytilová moeilijk werk te vinden; ze ging commercials regisseren onder de naam van haar man, cameraman Jaroslav Kučera.
De madeliefjes uit de titel zijn twee meisjes van 17, die allebei Marie heten. Ze zitten in hun bikini aan het zwembad en beslissen dat, omdat de wereld verrot is en conventies zinloos, ze zich overeenkomstig mogen gedragen. Gedurende enige tijd amuseren ze zich met het prikkelen en dan teleurstellen van de seksuele verwachtingen van oudere mannen. Als dit spelletje gaat vervelen trekken ze naar een nachtclub waar ze zich bezatten en misdragen tot ze eruit worden gegooid.
Maar de twee zijn niet te stoppen in hun haat tegen de consumptiemaatschappij; een banket eindigt in een orgie van vernieling in pure slapstickstijl.
Deze surrealistische fantasie bleek de meest avontuurlijke en anarchistische van alle Tsjechische films van de jaren ’60.

Vanaf 28 juli 2016 is SEDMIKRASKY – madeliefjes te zien in de filmtheaters.

Vanaf 24 september 2019 op DVD verkrijgbaar!

filmposter madeliefjes sedmikrasky

Tsjechoslowakije; 1966; kleur; 76 minuten; Stereo;
Tsjechisch gesproken; Nederlands ondertiteld.

Credits

Regisseur:
Acteurs: Jitka Cerhová, Ivana Karbanová, Marie Češková, Jiřina Myšková, Marcela Březinová, Julius Albert
Productie: Rudolf Háje
Camera: Jaroslav Kučera
Muziek: Jiří Šlitr, Jiří Šust
Montage: Miroslav Hájek
Scenario: Věra Chytilová, Ester Krumbachová, Pavel Juráček

Over de regisseur:

Vera Chytilová (1929 – 2014) wordt gezien als een van de pioniers van de Tsjechische film. Zij werd vooral beïnvloed door de Franse ‘nouvelle vague’. Haar eerste langspeelfilm ‘O něčem jiném’ (‘Something Different’) uit 1963 is hiervan een treffend voorbeeld. In een losse geïmproviseerde stijl brengt zij via een parallelle montage het leven van twee zeer verschillende vrouwen in beeld.
Vera Chytilová studeerde eerst wijsbegeerte en architectuur voordat ze samen met o.a. Milos Forman (“One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) aan de Praagse filmschool FAMU ging studeren. Dezelfde opleiding waar ze uiteindelijk zou terugkeren als docente regie.
1961 The Ceiling
1962 A Bagful of Fleas
1963 Something Different
1965 “At the World Cafetaria” in Pearls of the Deep
1966 Daisies
1969 Fruit of Paradise
1976 The Apple Game
1978 Inexorable Times
1979 Pretas Story
1980 Kalamita
1981 Calamity
1981 Panelstory
1981 Chytilova versus Forman – Consciousness of Continuity
1983 The very late afternoon of the Faun
1984 Prague: the Troubled Heart of Europe
1986 Wolf’s Cabin
1987 Wolf’s Hole
1987 The Jester and the Queen
1988 Tainted Horseplay
1990 Tomas Garrigue Masaryk a Liberator
1991 My citizens of Prague understand me
1992 The inheritance or Fuckoffguysgoodbye
1998 Trap, trap, Little trap
2000 Fights and falls
2001 Exile from Paradise
2005 Patrani po Ester
2006 Pleasant Memories

Chytilova described the formal film language of Sedmikrásky (which she denied was avant-garde) in these terms:

Not just in the dramaturgical sense but in the
philosophical and existential sense, we wanted to have
real characters, real people, acting like puppets. We
wanted the viewer to really grasp the meaning of the
film. And that meaning was a protest against
destruction. The destruction, in any sense of the term,
in our lives. Destruction is going on in our lives and
especially in our relationships. So, we wanted to use
film language to show this.

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De pers over SEDMIKRASKY – madeliefjes

Angry young girls

Gender representations in Věra Chytilová’s Sedmikrásky and Pasti, pasti, pastičky

Chytilová’s heroines rebelliously try to subvert the patriarchal system and gender stereotypes—and fail. Małgorzata Radkiewicz examines the plight of female leads in two of Chytilová’s most famous films.

Although Sedmikrásky (Daisies, 1966) and Pasti, pasti, pastičky (Traps, 1998) were made in completely different contexts, both these films by Věra Chytilová can be seen as a kind of continuation, especially in terms of female representation. First of all, they present interesting, unconventional portraits of individual female personalities. Furthermore, they paint an excellent picture of Czech culture and society described from an alternative point of view that, over the years, has been shared by non-conformists, artists and intellectuals.
Questioning the importance and the value of any order or system—political, social or cultural—Chytilová’s film were in deliberate revolt against cinematic genres and dominating notions of representation. As a filmmaker, Chytilová has worked out her own style, which she uses consistently to create a subjective vision of female individuality. Drawing on the typical structures of Czech culture and cinematic tradition, she emphasized the uniqueness of each “self” and the distance that can exist between the individual interpretation of gender and its social interpretations.

Angry heroines in a patriarchal structure

Throughout Sedmikrásky and Pasti, pasti, pastičky, Chytilová persistently explored the complex relationship between the gender identity of her female characters and the repressive, patriarchal structure of the society they belong to. Although not many feminist projects existed in central and east European cinema when she began to critically comment on the conventional male-dominated culture, Chytilová’s opinions can be regarded as very close to a feminist orientation. This feminist approach is a main feature of her films, which are all in some way notable for being representative of women’s “counter cinema” and its revolutionary methods.
Based on formal innovation and avant-garde experiments, most of these methods drew primarily upon the traditions of the European new waves and were taking apart or deconstructing the methods of classical cinema. Chytilová’s artistic strategy, so clearly presented in films such as Sedmikrásky and Pasti pasti, pastičky, puts her among other female filmmakers who have deliberately deconstructed traditional methods in both fictional and documentary accounts in the belief that cinema cannot simply and transparently reflect women’s experience but it is always necessary to construct versions of that experience.

Revising femininity

Chytilová has set herself against the notions of mainstream cinema and produced a new kind of record thanks to which she has been able to revise and re-imagine the category of femininity, a category that has been always described in terms of traditional gender interpretations. Despite formal and ideological difficulties, Chytilová developed in Sedmikrásky a subjective vision, filled with a sense of irony and humor, of the painful adolescence of two “spoiled” (zkažené) girls, Marie I and Marie II, who are trying to act out their lives. The unconventional plot revolves around a series of unconnected escapades as the two girls use their femininity and mock naivety to run rings around a succession of older men. The audacity of their rebellious spirit culminates in a spectacular food fight in a hall, laid out in advance for a grand banquet. After this, the two promise to mend their ways and make attempts to repair the damage they have done.
The plot of Sedmikrásky, as well as its two main female characters, reflect Chytilová’s fascination with experimental forms and avant-garde genres, based on which she has elaborated her own way of artistic expression. Rejecting traditional illusionist methods and realist narrative models, she proposes a subjective interpretation of gender identity within a social and cultural structure.

The story of the two Maries is shown from two parallel perspectives: personal and social. The first one seems to dominate in all scenes that present nobody but the girls talking to each other and doing strange things, such as cutting fruit with scissors before eating them. Such a personal point of view emphasizes the inert world of both adolescents and the emotions, feelings and opinions they use to define their personality. Judging by their conversations, they perceive themselves as independent women, free from any restrictive notions. When one asks: “Say it’s great,” the other one answers, “I’ll say what I want.” There is no doubt about their self-confidence, as openly declared in the statement: “Anyway, we are young, after all. We’ve got our whole life ahead of us!”.
Chytilová herself is more skeptical about their possibilities in life, limited as they are by stereotyped images of women. In her sarcastic comments, Chytilová argues that—intentionally or not—one always repeats common interpretations of gender identity. When Marie II accuses her namesake of having crooked legs, Marie I answers: “Don’t you know I based my personality on them?” On the one hand, the answer explains her uncomplicated and unstable personality, on the other hand, it deconstructs social and cultural categories that define femininity and women only in terms of their bodies and physical attributes.

Questioning traditional definitions of gender identity, Chytilová revises conventional images of women and replaces them with their alternative versions. She expands the area of interests from particular characters to the whole culture and social structures. Rather than a story of two self-centered girls, Sedmikrásky should be considered as an interpretation of cultural and social mechanisms in which femininity is repressed by strict models and notions that one is obliged to follow. In such a structure, there could be no place left for free expression and creativity; nevertheless, Chytilová consistently departs from the patterns of mainstream cinema and the process of cinematic communication by subverting the representation of women. On closer inspection, Sedmikrásky and Pasti, pasti, pastičky appear to be more about being a woman in a patriarchal structure in general than a simply plot.

Gender stratification of Czech society

Judging by these two films, Chytilová has obviously been influenced by the feminist movement and its counter-cultural ideas that make her interested in women’s experience of life and the way in which gender and sexual identity are stimulated and formed by cultural, social and mental notions and stereotypes. Many anthropologists consider gender symbolism to be basic to all cultures. Some of them, like the Czech culture presented in Sedmikrásky and Pasti, pasti, pastičky, have highly elaborated complex notions of gender, regulating virtually all aspects of social life and defining everyday activities and social roles.
In Pasti, pasti, pastičky, a young vet is raped when her car breaks down and she is forced to hitchhike. Following the rape, she feigns amnesia and tricks her attackers back to her house where gives them drinks spiked with sedatives and then uses her occupational skill to castrate them. Her revenge is not enough to free of the memory of her attack, and she becomes increasingly desperate to seek justice for the pair. They in turn try to cover up their crime and adjust to their emasculated existence.[1]
In showing the consequences of the brutal rape in Pasti, pasti, pastičky, Chytilová is greatly concerned about portraying another aspect of some apparently objective norms. Above all, she wants to present how gender stratification reflects the common organization of Czech society and is reinforced by the shared normative systems of Czech culture. Furthermore, she stresses that the social roles assigned to women and men are not simply different, but also differently evaluated and differently rewarded.

As some of feminist theorists argue, there is a strict hierarchical ranking of sex groups that separates activities and behaviors of males and females, and what males do is more highly valued and differently estimated that what females do. Such thinking supplies a motive to the end of Pasti, pasti, pastičky when the men responsible for the rape are declared to be not guilty while their victim is accused of having an asocial attitude and sent to be hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic.
In Sedmikrásky, Chytilová’s position towards gender, however, seems to be more ironic and distanced than respectful, which is reflected in her filming strategies. In Pasti, pasti, pastičky, she goes much further, and overpowers viewers with a conclusion that is not only skeptical but also pessimistic. The ending shows how gender is reproduced in each generation and in social institutions. She critically comments on the stability of cultural notions and contemptuously defines the range of stereotypes.

The end of rebels

On the one hand, in her portraits of rebel heroines, so free and independent, there is no place for a limiting definition of gender roles. On the other hand, what appears on the screen is a vision of a very painful confrontation between the idealism of “angry young girls” and the down-to-earth realities that imprison them in a cage of conventional female features and qualities. In spite of their strong individuality, women in Sedmikrásky and Pasti, pasti, pastičky are forced to sanctify and respect the patriarchal order. Although they try to reject its rules, everyone expects them to follow the gender stratification in order to comply with the requirements and expectations of the whole society.
Feminist theorists intensify and enlarge the volume of research on sex differences; furthermore, they also place emphasis on the learning of sex roles (as girls in Sedmikrásky do) arguing that most of them are induced by environmental pressures and the reality of the social, cultural and economic context. Although Chytilová might not be automatically identified with feminist theorists, she shares the opinion and consistently believes that the social expectations, rules and norms attached to a person’s position in society usually force individuals to conform to them through the identification with the parent of their particular sex.
In such circumstances, the counter-cultural interpretation of gender must be limited to very personal aspects of life and might not be extended to its social and cultural context. Thus, the female characters from Chytilová’s films remain angry, young creatures whose pathetic rebellion must be put down to a response to their lack of experience and knowledge. After a series of revolutionary acts, Chytilová’s heroines are forced to subdue their rebellious ideas and submissively declare: “We don’t want to be spoiled anymore,” as Marie I and Marie II do at the end of Sedmikrásky.

Małgorzata Radkiewicz

Footnotes

1. For a more detailed plot description see Andrew James Horton, “Hitchhiking: The perils and the romance.” Central Europe Review, Vol 0, No 17, 19 January 1999. The author, however, takes a more caustic stance towards the film.

The void behind the mask

Game-playing in 
the films of Věra Chytilová

The mortality of human life and the shallowness of existence are repeated themes in Chytilová’s work. Ivana Košuličová explores how these themes are realized through the concept of the game.

The films of Czech director Věra Chytilová provoke controversial reactions from audiences, as well as from film critics. They are always up-to-date, sharply evaluating the current state of the society and eternal human weaknesses.
The director uses many ways to articulate her position regarding the moral problems of contemporary society and her perception of the world. One of these methods is the use of exaggeration, a means that often invites inconsistent reactions from the audience; another is the use of games, and it is this latter device that we will focus on in the following text.
We can find various instances of games and playfulness in the films of Chytilová—not only as an occurrence in the thematic-structural plan of the film but also as a creative experiment with film image or as a joyful play with Czech language. In this article, however, we will focus mostly on the principles of the game in the narrative structure of her films.

The principles of the game

By looking at three Chytilová films—Sedmikrásky (Daisies, 1966), Faunovo velmi pozdní odpoledne (The Very Late Afternoon of a Faun, 1983) and Kopytem sem, kopytem tam (Tainted Horseplay, 1988)—we can identify the main characteristics of the game as evident in the director’s work:
• The game is used to express the passivity, general immobilization of contemporary society and the formulation of the destructive principles.
• The players decide to play the game as a response to the social situation. The game becomes a substitute for real life. It allows the players to create a new existence, a new way of life independent from reality, subordinated only to the rules of the game.
• The game has meaning only in itself.
• Every game has its own rules. Breaking the rules brings about the end of the game.
• The game is endangered by reality. Elements of reality that break into the imaginary space of the game menace its existence and that of the players themselves.
• The game cannot be repeated because it is identified, mistaken with life itself. The end of the game is equivalent to the death of the players.

Game-playing systems

There are very specific and distinct kinds of game in each of the above-mentioned films. In Sedmikrásky, we watch a story of two girls (Marie I, Marie II). The film consists of a series of episodes in which the action happens according to the principle of the game they play, “vadí-nevadí” (“matters-doesn’t matter”). Each player has to do anything that her game partner wants her to. The one who doesn’t do so and “shows respect to certain norms and conventions—loses”.[1] Both heroines provoke each other and try to reveal their boundaries. Both Maries lead their game as a free act into extremity where the creative act is transformed into destruction.
We can see a different kind of game in the film Faunovo velmi pozdní odpoledne, one that could be described as an erotic game. The old hero, Faun, is “hunting” for women. His game has only two rules that cannot be broken: never let a woman stay over night and never start anything with a colleague from work. When Faun breaks the first rule his life starts to break down. Breaking the second rule of his game has catastrophic consequences, bringing about the end of the game.
The group of spa town party animals in the film Kopytem sem, kopytem tam also creates a specific game system—in this case, one that we could call a “game-life” because they transfer all their actions, their whole life into the game.

In the beginning, the outside world seems to be a target that the players attack. The game looks like a way to disrupt conventions and take down the masks. But soon we realize that the game has a completely opposite function. It is an “asylum from bad conscience, a defense from surrounding apathy, […] the group grinds things unimportant as well as urgently fundamental into comfortably digestible mush. The bon vivant trio still has its ‘system-no system’ (řád-neřád), its rules, its language, and its hymns”.[2]
The only thing that menaces this game is reality. Even when the players subdue reality by transforming it into a game they play, there remains a last fact that cannot be played: death. In this case, death comes in the guise of AIDS.
But there is also the partly allegoric figure of mysterious women with a pale face, dark glasses, wearing a coat with a hood. It is this character, a beautiful French woman, who infects Pepe with the deadly illness in Kopytem sem, kopytem tam. A similarly clothed woman (the character of Šéfka, the Boss) represents the figure of Death in the film Faunovo velmi pozdní odpoledne.

The choice of masks

One of the basic characteristics of any game is the possibility to choose a new existence, a new role that the player will play. In the swimming pool sequence in Sedmikrásky, the characters have the following dialogue:

[Marie II places a daisy chain on her head.]
Marie I: Co to děláš? (What are you doing?)
Marie II: Pannu. Jsem takhle jako panna, ne? – Já jsem panna. (I’m making a virgin. I look like a virgin like this, don’t I? I am a virgin).

Both heroines decide to be spoiled. They come up with various ways to realize their demoralization: they use lecherous old men to eat whatever they want for free, they smoke and steal just to accomplish their resolution to be spoiled. Their game “be spoiled” is focused mostly on the manipulation and use of men. The basic existence that the heroines chose for themselves within the game is that of spoiled girls. Their behaviour is then subordinated to this main pose. According to the situation, the girls put on masks that portray them as naïve, cynical, cheeky or sprightly.
The game expresses the conflict between the human and the world. For the heroes of Chytilová’s films, the game is the only possible answer to the life situation they are in. In Sedmikrásky, the two Maries start their game when they say:

Marie I: Všechno se nám kazí na tom světě. Víš co? Budeme zkažené i my! (Everything is spoiled in this world. You know what? We shall be spoiled too!).
Marie II: Vadí? (Does it matter?)
MarieI: Nevadí. (It doesn’t matter).

Compared to the intentionally schematic figures of the two Maries in the symbolic allegory of Sedmikrásky, the conception of the film Faunovo velmi pozdní odpoledne is created in a closer relationship to empiric reality. The only things that Faun can relate to in his existence are women. Chytilová emphasizes primarily his fear of responsibility that is hidden behind his seducer pose. The chosen role becomes an apposite way of covering his frustration.
Such motifs of frustration, disappointment, unsatisfied desire hidden in the world of the game are also present in Kopytem sem, kopytem tam. The three heroes try to escape from their life roles that don’t match their original ideas about themselves.
Biologist Dědek (Milan Šteindler), who went to study veterinary science to pursue his passion, has to write a thesis for the director’s daughter instead of working on his research. Cultural critic František (David Vávra) is disappointed by his unaccomplished theatre ambitions and stock inspector Pepe (Tomáš Hanák) inhibits his existence to erotic affairs. The game allows the characters to forget about the realities of their lives. Their masks of bon vivant allow them to stand against the absurd social situation with an escapist attitude that, through its playfulness, testifies to “forgetting the purpose of life.”[3]
The game becomes an escape from the living sorrow and conflicts. The game is the possibility to create a “new world” where we can decide the rules by ourselves. The ecstasy that the heroes experience from the sudden free action has to be limited by time. No game can continue in perpetuity, completely isolated from real life. The heroes don’t realize it, because they have lost the boundary between the real world and the world of the game.

The aimlessness of the game

French anthropologist Roger Caillois sees the game as one of the basic phenomena of existence as original and peculiar as death, love, power or work. According to Caillois, the only thing that differentiates the game from the afore-mentioned phenomena is the fact that the game does not have a final goal.
One of the basic characteristics of game that Chytilová emphasizes is its aimlessness. The game has no other purpose than itself. From an existentialist perspective, being is realized through an act. If we limit our existence to our presence in the game, our existence—within the aimless system of the game—therefore has to be absurd.
Chytilová allows only few of the characters (Faun, Pepe) to get out of the game and reach reality—by understanding time, old age and mortality. For both characters, leaving the game means death. Only the two “sedmikrásky” get a second chance, a chance for atonement. But it is only a change of position, a changing of the masks of “spoiled” for the masks of “happy.”

Marie II: My jsme přece obě tak šťastné! No řekni, že jsme šťastné! (We are so happy! Say we are happy!)
Marie I: A hrajeme na to? (And are we playing at it?)
Marie II: Ne. My jsme přece doopravdy šťastné. (No. We really are happy.)
Marie I: Ale to nevadí. (But it doesn’t matter.)
The permanent fight against nothingness

Above all, Chytilová composes her films as an appeal. The game becomes a tool for the presentation of an empty lifestyle and a stymied existence. She provokes the spectator by pointing out the “shallowness of a certain way of life, the dangerous need for human prestige that leads to holding a pose perhaps until death, the incapability to be oneself and also the inability to be happy.”[4]

From her films, we can conclude that the meaning of existence lies for Chytilová in the awareness that we exist in time and, simultaneously, in the awareness of our existence being limited by time. This seems to lead to understanding history as a unity of time and eternity. The director uses the theme of history, time and existence most clearly in her documentary films Čas je neúprosný (Time is Inexorable, 1978) and Praha, neklidné srdce Evropy (Prague: Restless Heart of Europe, 1984).

Chytilová does not perceive the human condition as being one in which all decisions are predetermined. Conversely, for her, human life originates in nothingness and is only created through permanent effort. From an existentialist perspective, self-realization happens through a free project. But the nothingness from which human life is lifted lurks everywhere all the time; human freedom is constantly in danger, threatened by the prospect of falling into lethargy, into mere existence. This means that every person has an extraordinary responsibility—not only on to themselves but also to others. In this inseparable connection between humanity and the world, social and political life is formed.
Through the phenomenon of the game, Chytilová testifies not only about primary existential ideas but about the state of contemporary society as well. She connects timeless themes with a critical depiction of the current lifestyle of society. In her films, she creates a specific form of game that always leads to the destruction of human existence and also to the destruction of the world.
Chytilová exposes characters whose fruitless living gradually comes out in the form of a game that soon starts expressing its grotesque and tragic nature. The aimlessness of the game becomes more and more visible. The absence of meaning has become the central problem of human existence in a world that the director constantly engages with. The game has become a way of formulating the idea that real nothingness does not lie in time, in old age or in death, but in an absurd and pointless existence.

Ivana Košuličová
Footnotes

1. Klimeš, Ivan: “Hra”. In.: Filmový sborník historický 4, 4/1993, p 59.

2. Cieslar, Jiří: Concettino ohlédnutí (portréty, kritiky a eseje 1975-1995). Národní filmový archiv, Prague, 1996, p 178.

3. Ibid.

4. Chytilová, Věra: “Sedmikrásky”. In Film a doba 12, 4/1996, p 169.

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