By Christopher Mildren
Czech director Vera Chytilova is renowned and revered outside of her homeland largely because of the wonderful freewheeling swipe at good behaviour for girls Daisies from 1966. Thank MIFF for resurrecting one of her other too-rarely screened films, the Eden story phantasmagoria Fruits of Paradise.
A retelling rich in obscure symbolism, it has more of a direct narrative thrust than its more familiar ancestor, but it’s hardly an unambiguous affair. It begins with one of the most intoxicating montages I’ve seen, a five minute strobing of flora close-ups and psychedelically imposed Adam and Eve figures. The hallucinatory mood is retained through out the main body of the film, a stylised tale of Eva, her husband Josefa and the charismatic serpent like figure of Robert, who may or may not be a murderer of young women. It is almost entirely shot outdoors in those overgrown fields and forests, quarries and swamps that seem to afford such dark menace to films east of the curtain.
The plot, such as it is, is told in typically clever Chytilova fashion, in stylised dramatic sequences, often with jarring in-camera effects, giving the film a dreamlike mood. Despite the overriding concern with dangerous desire and a cavalcade of beautiful nudes, it is not a heated film, instead more childlike with a sinister undercurrent. The visual invention sags a bit towards the end, but a climactic chase through a twilit forest involving a long piece of blood red material is astounding.
Chytilova’s way of exploring murky psychological complexity through arresting imagery is a treasure, and I hope this screening opens the way to more of her unique work seeing the light of day.