Something Different (O necem jinem)/A Bagful of Fleas (Pytel blech) - Two Films by Vera Chytilova Review
As debut features go, Something Different (O něčem jiném) by Czech filmmaker Věra Chytilová is rather extraordinary. It's not simply that the film itself is compelling and experimental and deeply concerned with the female perspective. There's also the brimming confidence on display. So assured was Chytilová that she made the pretty much unheard of decision to split her film down the middle and back and forth between verite documentary on an Olympic gymnast and a drama of married alienation. Without any direct relationship between the alternating halves, she nonetheless created a cohesive whole that somehow resonates as a single piece. Again, the realization that it was her very first feature-length effort, not even counting its place as one of the key beginnings of the Czech New Wave, is simply amazing.
The only slight concession to connecting the two otherwise non-intersecting and unrelated parts of Something Different is the footage that opens the film, in which gymnast Eva Bosáková is shown performing on a television inside the home of married couple Věra and Josef. She's an attractive blonde unhappy with his routine of coming home from work and reading the newspaper or listening to football matches on the radio rather than turning his attention to her. They have a small child, a boy. Josef insists they save money to buy a fancy new automobile while Věra pouts about not being able to have some of the clothes and accessories she'd like. If the situation doesn't seem especially novel to the modern day viewer it's worth keeping in mind that Chytilová was establishing much of the foundation for what would follow, only that she was doing it in 1963 and in communist Czechoslovakia. And in a climate with a dearth of female viewpoints.
The consistent and frequent alternating between Eva and Věra surely inspires thoughts of compare and contrast but it may not be quite so simple. On a basic level their struggles are shared frustrations, coming largely at the hands of male-dominated society and, more immediately, individual male figures. Eva is shown repeatedly being pushed to the edge and its environs by her (male) coach. Věra projects her problems, whether superficial or those more easily relatable, onto her husband Josef. Her method of coping is to find a lover while Eva doubles down to achieve greatness one final time. Both women are searching for something, a theme that ultimately comes to form the crux of Something Different.
A few short years later Chytilová would bring us Daisies, which is simply one of the greatest and most audacious films ever made, so the poise and confidence found already in Something Different shouldn't come as a total surprise. Still, the formal decisions and overall mastery of the medium at such an early point in her career can't help but make an impact on the viewer, particularly one blessed with some sense of context. The available films of Věra Chytilová from this early stage of her career are impressive enough upon viewing but when seen next to those works of her contemporaries they only grow in stature. The Czech New Wave in general holds a number of delightful surprises, often unique and difficult to form comparisons elsewhere, but Chytilová seems to have been on a plane of her own. Whether owing to her gender or her sensibility - or a combination of both - she was a fairly singular figure in film.
Prior to Something Different, she'd made a few short films, most notably "Ceiling" (available on the Second Run release of Fruit of Paradise) and "A Bagful of Fleas" ("Pytel blech"). The latter, from 1962, is included alongside Chytilová's feature debut here and is part of the release's title, with a "Two films by Věra Chytilová" chaser, rather than serving as a listed supplement. It's an easy watch, at forty-three minutes, that furthers the gender-specific focus expected of the director. The setting is a young women's hostel or dormitory that houses workers of a factory. As the included booklet indicates, this set-up brings to mind a section of the later Milos Forman film Loves of a Blonde, but here the main attention is on a dynamic among the collection of ladies.
More evidence of the inventiveness and experimentation Chytilová employed can be seen in the way the main character Eva takes the form of the camera, giving the audience a first-person point of view against occasional narration. There's more where that came from, too, as other sequences like a nearly pitch-black chat session of audio further the playful mood in use. The young women seen here on screen apparently were non-professionals playing a form of themselves, to the chagrin of the real factory where they worked. They serve as a mixed bag of insolence and prescribed caution. They're the majority at workplaces such as these, and if you're wondering where their male peers are a late scene where one of the particularly plucky workers is sat down reminds us that many of them, including her boyfriend, are about to enter military service. A rather stark reality, fictionalized but not really, as usual, by Chytilová.
Second Run DVD continues its mission of bringing the films of Věra Chytilová to English-friendly viewers. This release of Something Different and "A Bagful of Fleas" follows earlier editions of Daisies, Traps, and Fruit in Paradise. The dual-layered disc is a UK release, of course, and thus in the PAL format but region-free.
Video quality for the two films is generally excellent. The opening of Something Different was a bit disarming until you realize it's just a television broadcast and then the sharpness and detail soon increase for the remainder of the feature. Some speckles of damage and a few instances of hairs in the gate do occur but it's an overall satisfactory experience. The short film "A Bagful of Fleas" actually looks better, having originated from a new 2K restoration. No damage to speak of here and contrast and quality on the whole is quite good. Both films are presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
Audio for Something Different does exhibit occasional hiss and pop but it isn't a constant disturbance. Furthermore, the exceptional music found in the film registers well and boldly so. The restored "A Bagful of Fleas" improves in comparison with its sound and carries no notable issues. Both tracks are Czech mono. English subtitles are provided, though optional.
If "A Bagful of Fleas" is part of the main presentation then only the 16-page booklet with an essay by Peter Hames acts as a supplement for the release. Hames provides his usual informative and insightful contribution here, also touching some on the Chytilová short "Ceiling" in his piece. The lovely picture of the director alongside a camera that occupies the back cover of the booklet is a nice and fitting final touch.