Two young girls, both named Marie, declare that the world is spoiled and rotten and make a pact that they’ll be too. They undertake this pursuit with much gusto and involve themselves in a series of misadventures, from dining out with numerous Sugar Daddies, getting drunk and behaving badly at a cabaret performance and finally gorging on a grand banquet that they ultimately end up trashing.
It’s really hard for me not to at least like this film a great deal. It works so well at a purely sensory level. It’s visually really playful and inventive switching from B&W to sepia to duotone to full-on gorgeous color. There’s also a really interesting use of sound and editing and the film is full of formal idiosyncrasies. Rapid jump cuts, photomontages, color filters .. Chytilová uses a ton of devices to create what ends up feeling more like a somewhat fragmented cinematic collage. Plus, the two girls are an absolute delight.
There’s also so much humor in the film. Chytilová clearly seems to enjoy silent comedies, which seems to have influenced a lot of the scenes here. The scenes in the restaurant where the dark-haired Marie is pretending to be stupefied by the other Marie’s behavior is a particularly good example. There’re also a ton of visual gags that I loved. There’s a scene where it appears as though the blonde Marie is lying on the grass till the camera pulls away and we realize that she is lying indoors on a bed on top of a green rug.
However, I am still struggling to really understand how these admittedly fun but disparate elements tie up and to make sense of Chytilová’s ideas here. The film does seem to me to be decidedly feminist in it’s approach. The pact the girls make right at the start seems to necessitate a reversal of the patriarchal order. For one, there is the ritual exploitation of the older men who seem to desire these young girls. Then there’s the scene where the girls successively cut up various phallic food items while a man declares his love for one of the girls over the phone. As Peter Hames points out in his book, “The observation of men in all these scenes is unquestionably feminist and highly critical. They are shown as vain, preoccupied with sex, and assuming an automatic right to cheat on their wives with young women. What is worse, these basic characteristics are cloaked with a maudlin sentimentality.”
The prologue where the two girls engage in doll-like movements playing a game suggests a recognition of they status as powerless dolls. The ensuing pact and their subsequent actions feel like an attack on deserving targets. The fact that the girls continue to behave like dolls and engage in infantile baby talk about be criticized as anti-feminist. However, to me their ability to conform to gender expectations and simultaneously upend them is what makes the whole thing even more powerfully feminist.
I’m less sure of any other kind of political subtext that the film might be hinting at. For instance, I’m not quite sure what to make of the opening credits with the alternating images of explosions. Nor am I quite sure what to make of the ending. Is Chytilová ultimately condoning her protagonists for their nihilism and decadence? Is the ending merely an attempt at obfuscating Chytilová’s sociopolitical views and thereby avoid censorship? And what does one make of the way the girls are reformed in an instant and the final dedication?
I personally read Chytilová’s allegiance as residing with the girls. Better to seize control and face the risks than to conform without questioning the norm.
I love the feeling of constant dread that looms over the film right amidst all the absurdist humor. It’s also visually really gorgeous with lots of tight framing that’s reminiscent of Repulsion. It’s also got a really sick and awesome soundtrack. Despite all that, it doesn’t work as well as for me as say Repulsion or Knife in the Water