Very sad to read today that radical Czech filmmaker Vera Chytilová has died, albeit at the well-lived age of 85. She’s most famous for the irreverent feminist film Daisies (Sedmikrásky), but with a career that spanned decades—and governments—Chytilová’s influence was anything but limited.
Chytilová got something of a late start to filmmaking, studying philosophy and architecture in school, and working a variety of jobs until reaching a low-ranking position at Barrandov Studios in Prague. Initially denied a chance to study film production with the studio, Chytilová persevered until she was finally accepted to FAMU, a film school in Prague that also boasts Miloš Forman, Ivan Passer, Emir Kusturica, Jiří Menzel, and Agnieszka Holland as alumni, at age 28. Daisies, her second feature, was released when she was 36.
Chytilová proved fluent in a variety of different genres, from comedy to drama to fantasy, but she always imbued her films with a hefty sense of social commentary and, often, an absurdist sense of humor. Throughout her long career, she faced censorship from multiple governments: the Czechoslovakian government banned her 1966 film, Daisies, for depictions of wasting food, while the later Soviet government basically banned her to the point that she could only direct small-scale commercials, and even then, only by working secretly under her husband’s name. Yet unlike compatriots Miloš Forman or Jan Němec, she never emigrated from her home country, remaining in Czechoslovakia (now, the Czech Republic) for the majority of her life.
I spent a year in Prague in college, in large part because it meant being able to attend the film school that Chytilová herself had attended. I saw many of her films sitting in classrooms that she may have sat in at one point 50 years prior as a student, or, perhaps more likely, in one of the many years she spent teaching at the university afterward. Discovering Chytilová at a time when many of my film classes were focused almost exclusively on the irreverence and innovation of American men was an amazing experience, and I’m sure Chytilová’s influence will continue to inspire generations of unruly women.
Wishing a fond farewell to the first lady—and foremost bad girl—of Czech cinema.