Saturday, October 19, 2019

Something Different (Vera Chytilova, 1963)

Vera Chytilova’s Something Different delivers exactly that, most literally by switching back and forth between two contrasting narratives: one observing Eva, a gymnast in training for upcoming championships; the other following Vera, a housewife overwhelmed by her hyperactive young son and by domesticity in general. The two strands only occasionally explicit echo each other (Vera’s husband and Eva both criticized for reading the paper, him at the dinner table and her on the beam) but provide parallel studies in the difficulty of maintaining balance (in Eva’s case, literally as well as figuratively) and resisting subjugation. Eva’s position seems more privileged by virtue of her relative fame, and yet her coaches rail at her laziness, grab at her limbs and pull her into desired poses, scornfully dismiss her ideas and instincts, and at one point slap her across the face: her final performance liberates her from such direct control, while withholding any real sense of exultation. By comparison, the sequences with Vera are a frenetic pile-up of life problems, underlined by frequent arguments about money. She starts an affair with a man who pursues her in the street, but in large part it seems like another source of life clutter, another submission to an agenda primarily set by someone else; when a crisis hits at the end, she has no option but to cling onto what she has, however unsatisfying. The film’s last sequence, with Eva now coaching a young female athlete, suggests the possibility of calmer and more nurturing structures ahead, but the final note is questioning and reflective rather than in any way triumphant. Eva’s distinct place in society relative to Vera's correlates with a greater openness to cinematic invention as measured by camera angles, freeze frames and suchlike, but these also speak to her distance from the more typical life experience.

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