Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Věra Chytilová | O něčem jiném (Something Different)

unhappy women
by Douglas Messerli

Věra Chytilová (script and director) O něčem jiném (Something Different) / 1963

Czech director Věra Chytilová is often seen as the bad girl of the filmmakers of the Czech revolution of the 1960s. Her best known film was her 1966 work, Daisies (see my review below), after which she was banned from making films and found it almost impossible to continue as an active film-maker until later in her life. Yet, as Criterion has recently revealed by releasing earlier works, Chytilová also made other noteworthy movies, particularly her first feature film, Something Different of 1963.
     This film is made even more fascinating through its ties to documentary filmmaking focusing on an unhappy housewife and an aging gymnast (Věra Uzelacová and Eva Bosáková), and for its quite outspoken feminist positions.
      Intercutting scenes between the two, and at one point through a television screen bringing the gymnast into the housewife’s home, we observe that both hard-working females must apparently sacrifice everything, including love, the males, and in this gymnast’s case, other females’ demands.
      The director focuses on the housewife’s repetitive kitchen chores, her daily housecleaning and cooking duties, and, particularly, on her caretaking of her loveable but truly rambunctious son. But even those endless duties don’t seem to be enough for her husband, who in an attempt for them to save up enough to buy a car, insistently asks her to consider washing and ironing all the clothes instead of paying a woman who does them in her house.
      And when the husband returns from work each day, he has little time even for conversation, determined as he is to spend hours reading the newspapers. Even when the couple entertain friends, it ends generally, so the second couple admit, in a fight between the husband and wife guests, along with hurried goodbyes. Clearly the husband has little to do with his son, not even at the dinner table where the boy often refuses to eat the soups the housewife has cooked up.
      For the gold-winning gymnast life is also a series of routines, walking the Balance Beam, swinging on the Uneven Bars, etc. while her trainers shout out orders to her. Even when her husband arrives, he evidently a former gymnast himself, makes further suggestions to improve her routine.
     Moreover, Eva is knowingly coming to the end of her career, suggesting that she intends to retire after one more competition. Her legs aren’t holding up as well, a foot is often in pain, and she has grown fearful of the flying leap off the Vault the trainers demand. Her dance instructor (she was a former ballerina) adds his own derision when she can no longer lift her leg to an impossibly high position while keeping her balance as she does so. One might describe her daily regimen more like abuse, just as the housewife feels is nightly doled out a more passive abuse by her no longer loving husband.
      At one point, both women momentarily rebel, seeking clearly “something different” in their lives. While out shopping, the housewife meets a handsome younger man and begins an affair with him, leaving her son in the hands of others on some afternoons.
       The gymnast suddenly rebels, refusing to continue with her workout and storming off to her home for a few days. Ultimately, she returns to the workouts and wins another gold medal for herself.
       The housewife’s lover proves to be a petulant and selfish as her husband and breaks off the relationship returning to her home and family, begging for her husband’s forgiveness. Yet both these women have shown the family and friends that they are something of value and are able to move into different worlds if pushed too far. These independent-minded women are both extremely capable of what they do, but they need more variety in their lives if they are to successfully continue.

Los Angeles, May 23, 2014

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