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 Charulata & Colonel Conquer Czechoslovakia 
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It's quite simple, really. The Colonel and I attempt to make a small dent in what has long been a cinematic blind spot for both of us, films from the Czechoslovak New Wave. After looking through nearly a hundred titles and poring over screenshot after screenshot of people having outdoor picnics and laying about in the sun wearing flowers in their hair, we feel pretty certain that it's going to make for a fun summer movie project.

We've picked an initial set of 10 films that we hope to get through over the summer. The rest depends on where life and this thread takes us. Suffice to say, this thread has the potential to last us years. The picks will be revealed as and when we get to them.

If any of you'd like to play along, just PM one of us and we'll share the initial list of films.

To guide us along on this journey, we also found us some reading material:
http://books.google.nl/books?id=eGi6ykW ... &q&f=false
http://www.amazon.com/Closely-Watched-F ... 0873320360
http://www.amazon.com/The-Czechoslovak- ... 350&sr=1-1


INDEX
Daisies
Marketa Lazarova
A Report on the Party and the Guests
Courage for Every Day
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:32 am
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First!

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:33 am
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JediMoonShyne wrote:
First!

Damn you! :P

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:33 am
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Oh, this is wonderful. Been dying to see more Czech film lately.

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:33 am
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Colonel Kurz wrote:
Damn you! :P

Or, should I say, první!

I have some more reading material that I'll post up later.

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:36 am
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ribbon wrote:
Oh, this is wonderful. Been dying to see more Czech film lately.

Well, join us!

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:36 am
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JediMoonShyne wrote:
Or, should I say, první!
Man, I vaguely remember when I knew a few words of Czech from when I was in Prague. That was not one of them though, I think. Prague is beautiful though.

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:37 am
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charulata wrote:
Well, join us!

Judging be her avatar, I think she might be one ahead of us. :)

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:38 am
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charulata wrote:
Well, join us!

:D, maaabes. I've only seen like three or so now, so it's tempting. Either way, I'll be reading! Excites.

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:40 am
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JediMoonShyne wrote:
I have some more reading material that I'll post up later.

Awesome, thanks :). I was actually gonna PM you for suggestions!

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:47 am
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Haww yeah

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Thu May 10, 2012 8:49 am
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Outside of Forman, I'm sure I've seen several of these without realizing they belong to a particular film movement.

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Thu May 10, 2012 9:02 am
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Wolfy will be following along.


Thu May 10, 2012 9:05 am
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Haww yeah


Thu May 10, 2012 9:18 am
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As far as I know, the Czechs made the first backwards film. They were doing things no one was thinking of at the time. This should be fun.


Thu May 10, 2012 9:20 am
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Char and Kurz :heart: :heart: :heart: :heart:

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Thu May 10, 2012 9:20 am
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:heart:

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Thu May 10, 2012 9:26 am
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Exciting! And I definitely want to play along.

Off the top of my head, I think I've seen only 10 film from the New Wave.

Birds, Orphans, and Fools
The Cremator
…and the Fifth Horseman is Fear
Miraculous Virgin
Closely Watched Trains
Daisies
Loves of a Blonde
The White Dove
The Valley of the Bees
Who Wants to Kill Jessie?

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Thu May 10, 2012 10:11 am
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Czech you two out.

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Thu May 10, 2012 10:13 am
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Intimate Lighting and Black Peter FTW!!??

This project is delicious.


Thu May 10, 2012 10:36 am
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Black Peter was pretty funny. In a dark way. Intimate Lighting I still have on my table.

It's best to watch all the films of Vaclav Vorlicek and Oldrich Lipsky. For absurdist comedy those two cannot be beat. Even Svankmajer got his start with them.


Thu May 10, 2012 10:37 am
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I've seen (roughly in order from most liked to least liked):

Postava k podpírání (a.k.a. Joseph Killan)
The Firemen's Ball
The Shop on Main Street
Daisies
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
Black Peter
Closely Watched Trains
Valley of the Bees
Capricious Summer
Loves of a Blonde
The Cremator
Fruit of Paradise
Marketa Lazarova


All worth seeing. I'm not entirely sure all of these fall under the CZW banner.

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Thu May 10, 2012 10:38 am
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I'm taking a stab in the dark, but did this spark the creation of the thread? :D

Also... I'm really looking forward to the thread!


Thu May 10, 2012 10:55 am
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Spengo wrote:
Czech you two out.

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Thu May 10, 2012 11:10 am
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Spengo wrote:
Czech you two out.


As fun as a game of Czechers

I know.

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Thu May 10, 2012 11:10 am
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czech, and, mate.

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Thu May 10, 2012 11:12 am
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I czeched out the threat title and decided to czech in.

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Thu May 10, 2012 12:49 pm
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Spengo wrote:
Czech you two out.

:fresh:

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Thu May 10, 2012 2:37 pm
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Ch-ch-Chzech it Czech it Czech it out.


Thu May 10, 2012 2:43 pm
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alobar wrote:
Ch-ch-Chzech it Czech it Czech it out.

:rotten:

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Thu May 10, 2012 3:15 pm
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What a coincidence...I just checked out Daisies from a rental store.

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Thu May 10, 2012 3:20 pm
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Oh shit yes. Czech cinema is one of my favorite national cinemas (and its greatness isn't limited to the New Wave, but that's certainly a treasure trove). Not only do I adore the filmmakers, but there's an overarching stylistic continuity among the films made there, something vague and amorphous but very real, and that quality really appeals to me. It reminds me of the rural south in many ways, which is where I grew up, so that might have something to do with it. This is largely true of lots of Eastern European cinema, but especially Czech cinema.

I will diligently follow this thread.

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Thu May 10, 2012 4:13 pm
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meliorism wrote:
What a coincidence...I just czeched out Daisies from a rental store.


Fixed.

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Thu May 10, 2012 4:49 pm
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charulata wrote:
Awesome, thanks :). I was actually gonna PM you for suggestions!

Ha! You should ask someone who knows about it like Bleevs.

Anyway, some further reading: Peter Hames has written extensively on the topic, and his essay in Traditions of World Cinema works as a good starting point. As a cover-to-cover read, Jonathan L. Owen's Czechoslovak Cinema, Surrealism and the Sixties is one of the best I've come across. And finally, there are a handful of excellent individual essays in The Cinema of Central Europe.

(clicky click)

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Thu May 10, 2012 6:21 pm
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You read more than you watch.


Thu May 10, 2012 9:12 pm
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Right? It seems Jedi's read everything.

How boring is your job exactly?

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Thu May 10, 2012 9:13 pm
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I skim more than I read. :P

And not boring, no. Just sometimes rather quiet.

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Thu May 10, 2012 9:25 pm
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Daisies – First thoughts

What better way to kick this thread off than this delightful Surrealist (or perhaps Dadaist?) and anarchic comedy? Two women, sisters Marie I and Marie II, ditch female conventions of what's expected of them and kick the patriarchy in the nuts. This is most ostentatious perhaps in the scene where the girls cut up banana's, sausages and other phallus symbols while they receive and ignore calls from men who've fallen for them and want to marry them. But it's also evident in the numerous scenes of them using older men to get free dinners, which are increasingly funny as their behavior during gets increasingly 'unconventional'. Also hilarious is their silly adventure in a night club from which they get thrown out eventually.

The playfulness of the girls is matched by that of director Vera Chytilová, who cheerfully defies cinematic conventions by playing around with filters, stock and colors. Not to mention the various seemingly random inserts. Which to me seems like the filmmakers version of the girls' making collages with scissors that we see in the film. In a way it might just be an expression of freedom. And this not just in the image, the soundtrack reflects this as well with it's Mickey Mousing of the girl's movement with mechanical sounds or the ticking of a clock, or the clicking of a typewriter. There's a lovely irreverence about all this formal experimentation that matches the light, almost cheerful tone with which patriarchal values are undercut.

But what to make of the bombs being dropped on wartorn landscapes during the opening credits, while a machine churns on (though later when the girls come across the same machine it doesn't move), that return at the end? There is an anger and aggression under the surface of this anarchy - that always flirts with slapstick and then definitely moves into that territory with the pie throwing in the long, destructive 'dinner' sequence at the end – that also comes with it's subversive nature. Is that deliberate? And what does that express, if Chytilová says she never meant to make a feminist statement in the first place? Is it supposed to tie in to the opening scene in which the sisters say that the whole world is spoiled and therefore they shall be too?

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Sat May 12, 2012 7:46 am
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Daisies | Chytilová | 1966


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.

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Sat May 12, 2012 7:51 am
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There is an anger and aggression under the surface of this anarchy - that always flirts with slapstick and then definitely moves into that territory with the pie throwing in the long, destructive 'dinner' sequence at the end – that also comes with it's subversive nature. Is that deliberate? And what does that express, if Chytilová says she never meant to make a feminist statement in the first place? Is it supposed to tie in to the opening scene in which the sisters say that the whole world is spoiled and therefore they shall be too?


I don't necessarily believe her when she says that btw. Am curious as to how exactly you're connecting the beginning and the end. Is it that like them, you see this is as punishment for their excesses?

Also, I might be reading too much into this but I found it interesting that we see them laid out on the table at the end.. much like all of the food was laid out at the beginning of the scene. Consumable offerings that end up getting destroyed.

Also, I suspect you read this already but the Hames book has this to say about the ending.

"The interesting thing about the conclusion is that disaster only strikes after the two girls have decided to be "happy" and exhibit "correct" attitudes. Conformity, if based on apathy and lack of conviction, is ultimately more destructive than any of the girls' stupid excesses. It is such an apathy when faced with the world's injustice that allows and permits the wars of the twentieth century. It is the conclusion of a moralist."

It seems at least somewhat counter to Chytilová's stated intentions with the film. This is what she had to say.

"Daisies was a morality play showing how evil does not necessarily manifest itself in an orgy of destruction caused by war, that its roots may lie concealed in the malicious pranks of everyday life. I chose as my heroines two young girls because it is at this age that one most wants to fulfill oneself and, if left to one’s own devices, his or her need to create can easily turn into its very opposite."

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Sat May 12, 2012 8:10 am
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Excellent write-ups.

Admittedly, the more I think about it, the more of a favorite it becomes.

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Sat May 12, 2012 8:38 am
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charulata wrote:
I don't necessarily believe her when she says that btw.
First thing I was taught in mediastudies: don't rely on what the authors have to say about their own work for your interpretation. :P
charulata wrote:
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.
Of course, sometimes, this was just because they switched scenery mid scene. Which I also loved.
charulata wrote:
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 wonder if the infantile nature is necessarily conforming to gender expectations - whenever they do this in the presence of men, those men seem to feel uncomfortable or annoyed by it, even angry sometimes.
charulata wrote:
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.
charulata wrote:
Am curious as to how exactly you're connecting the beginning and the end. Is it that like them, you see this is as punishment for their excesses?
Ha, you seem to have similar questions as I do. Like Hames says, their punishment seems to come only after they do somewhat conform and present themselves as "consumable offerings", as you say. So are they really being punished for their excesses, or for not seeing that through to the end and backtracking after their actions (literally) land them in cold water? They're also dressed in some contraption made out of metal wires and old newspapers, I'm not sure if that has any significance.

I don't think Chytilová was trying to avoid censorship - the rest of the film seems so free-spirited. And if she did try, it certainly didn't work, since the film got banned on release anyway.

I find her statement that you quoted quite odd. If anything, I rather think that if the end is punishment, that it's for the whole world being decadent and nihilist, and that the girls are simply reflecting that and being made an example of, i.e. that they're a mirror for society. But then, I wonder if that's true since that does seem to conflict with what I think to know of mid '60s Czechoslovak society.

Something else: a Dutch acquaintance of mine wrote a review a few years back in which he claimed the meaning of the film did not have so much to do with feminism and the patriarchy but more with a critique on consumption, with all the food and whatnot. Though I find his interpretation interesting, I don't think he's really on to something there, as he seems to look at the film from a decidedly modern Western perspective, as I wonder if all consuming consumption was that much of an issue in the Czechoslovakia of the 1960s.

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Sat May 12, 2012 9:09 am
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Beautiful start to the thread! You both make me want to give this one another try, if just for the color and composition. Slapstick is my least favorite form of comedy, though, so it's an uphill battle. And I have trouble with all the feminist interpretations, since I found the girls as unlikeable as the men.

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Sat May 12, 2012 9:31 am
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Very nice. :)


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Colonel Kurz wrote:
First thing I was taught in mediastudies: don't rely on what the authors have to say about their own work for your interpretation. :P

:)


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I find her statement that you quoted quite odd. If anything, I rather think that if the end is punishment, that it's for the whole world being decadent and nihilist, and that the girls are simply reflecting that and being made an example of, i.e. that they're a mirror for society. But then, I wonder if that's true since that does seem to conflict with what I think to know of mid '60s Czechoslovak society.

Something else: a Dutch acquaintance of mine wrote a review a few years back in which he claimed the meaning of the film did not have so much to do with feminism and the patriarchy but more with a critique on consumption, with all the food and whatnot. Though I find his interpretation interesting, I don't think he's really on to something there, as he seems to look at the film from a decidedly modern Western perspective, as I wonder if all consuming consumption was that much of an issue in the Czechoslovakia of the 1960s.

I wondered about that as well. The whole film is so focused on food. And I agree that excessive consumption hardly seems like the burning issue of the day at the time. The way I made sense of it was to think of the gluttony aspect of the film as a stand-in for a broader transgression of socio-cultural norms. It's unacceptable behavior.

I know the film was banned but I can't help but think that she at least tried to avoid it.

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Sat May 12, 2012 9:32 am
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Post Re: Charulata & Colonel Conquer Czechoslovakia

charulata wrote:
I wondered about that as well. The whole film is so focused on food. And I agree that excessive consumption hardly seems like the burning issue of the day at the time. The way I made sense of it was to think of the gluttony aspect of the film as a stand-in for a broader transgression of socio-cultural norms. It's unacceptable behavior.
Yeah, that's what I thought. Especially unacceptable for young, beautiful women in a patriarchal society with 'traditional' ideas on gender norms and beauty ideals.
charulata wrote:
I know the film was banned but I can't help but think that she at least tried to avoid it.
That's very possible. Though if they're being punished for reverting back to "normal", wouldn't that be a much more subversive ending and thus have the opposite effect?

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Sat May 12, 2012 9:39 am
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Shieldmaiden wrote:
And I have trouble with all the feminist interpretations, since I found the girls as unlikeable as the men.

Hmm, interesting. I suppose I can see how one might end up feeling that way. Especially since there's nothing specific that is set up as the thing they're rebelling against. In his book, Hames mentions that socialism in Czechoslovakia tended to institutionalize existing inequalities between the sexes. Even without that background, I didn't really need more than that opening statement about being dolls to accept that their action are justified.

Colonel Kurz wrote:
That's very possible. Though if they're being punished for reverting back to "normal", wouldn't that be a much more subversive ending and thus have the opposite effect?

True that. But I guess not if you read it more simplistically as the two wicked girls getting their comeuppance :).

Btw, what did you make of the dedication at the end?

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Sat May 12, 2012 9:46 am
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Post Re: Charulata & Colonel Conquer Czechoslovakia

Also, time to compensate for making my starter post for the film relatively image free.

Image Image
Image Image Image Image
Image Image

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Sat May 12, 2012 9:50 am
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Post Re: Charulata & Colonel Conquer Czechoslovakia

I haven't seen the film but just based on the images and words you two posted it looks like Ghost World (the comic and film) took some ideas from this.

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Sat May 12, 2012 9:51 am
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Nicely done, people.

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