Tag Archives: Vitezslav Nezval

Giorgio de Chirico – Melancholy and Mystery of a Street

14 May

In this post we’ll take a look at Italian Metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico’s perhaps most well-known painting called “Melancholy and Mystery of a Street” and the way its portrayal of space and mood connect to some scenes from Vítězslav Nezval’s Surrealist novel “Valerie and her Week of Wonders”.

Giorgio de Chirico, Melancholy and Mystery of a Street, 1914

When we think of melancholy, mysterious and lonely streets and squares in art, Chirico must be the first painter to come to mind. He painted many such scenes with cold sharply precise architecture and a strange almost sinister mood, and a well known example is the painting above called “Melancholy and Mystery of a Street”. I hesitate to call it an urban scene, even though it is a city and not countryside, because it belongs completely into a world of its own, with unique logic and moods which have nothing in common with our world. At first sight, his paintings look similar to the world we live in, but then the strangeness start lurking from the shadows and we cannot help but notice the isolated and creepy mood of the street. A white building with a repetitive row of arches, disproportions, shadows… One can almost feel a deep layer of silence and then a strange giggle coming from afar, as the shadow starts growing bigger until it covers the whole square. And yet, Chirico’s paintings manage to stay lyrical despite their coldness. Another work of art which has a world of its own is Vitezslav Nezval’s novel “Valerie and her Week of Wonders” written in 1934, at the height of Surrealist movement in Czechia, and published a decade later. Partly inspired by Surrealism and the dream theory, and partly by the tradition of the Gothic novel, Nezval’s novel is a beautiful contradiction in mood and themes. While some motifs are ever so romantic and gloomy such as the vault, long corridors, crypts, burial sights, others brings an anxious mood of dreams that is more reminiscent of Chirico’s paintings, especially the beginning of the Chapter V called “Losing the Way”:

Valerie had lost her way. For the third time, without knowing how, she had entered a deserted square that seemed to be enchanted. When she glanced at one of the locked gates, a missionary appeared to her standing in front of it. She left the square and entered the square. Her legs were tired and were leading her on her own, while her spirit wandered like that of someone sleeping. Over one doorway she noticed a cluster of grapes held in the beak of a dove. Then she was alarmed by four windows that seemed to have been forged from a storm. She thought she heard a groan. Her eyes settled on a tall gas lamp with moths fluttering around it. But the groan came again. Having circled the square, she suddenly found herself just a few steps from the lamp and saw to her amazement a terrifying image: tied to the lam’s base was a girl, emitting plaints from deep in her throat. As Valerie stepped up closer, she recognised her clothes, which were torn in several places.

Scene from Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970)

Naturally, the small square of a picturesque Czech village that Valerie has found herself on has nothing to do architecturally with Chirico’s classical and monumental Italian squares. It’s Valerie’s inner state, her emotions, fear and curiosity which give the square a slightly nightmarish mood. It’s not what she sees in front of her, it’s how she feels within that is projected on on the outside. Space in Chirico’s paintings is illogical to the eyes of grown ups, but to Valerie it isn’t unusual because she still sees things from children’s point of view, or rather, she is in the middle; just like the girl in the painting, childhood is behind her and she is walking slowly towards the shadowy figure; the adulthood. This connects to something that Chirico himself said: “To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams.

Advertisements

Czech Avant-Garde: ‘Daisies’ and ‘Valerie and her Week of Wonders’

19 Jun

Today I’m going to talk a bit about two films I recently watched and still can’t stop thinking about.

The imaginary is what tends to become real.” (Andre Breton)

Sedmikrasky (1966) 51

Daisies (1966)

Last Wednesday I finally watched these two brilliant films – Daisies or Sedmikrasky (1966) and Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970). Looking back, it seems I had an afternoon of Czech New Wave, and what a wonderful afternoon it was! The first film I watched, Daisies, directed by Věra Chytilová, is about two girls, Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová), who, led by the thought that everything is relative and that the world is f*cked up, decide to do everything they want, and that includes behaving improper at restaurants, cutting sheets, dining with wealthy men, eating lots and lots of food, cutting eggs and pickled cucumbers with scissors, having a bath in milk, walking through a corn field, just fooling around really.

Every scene of this film is so aesthetically pleasing; from Marie II’s floral headband and bright orange hair and their pretty 1960s dresses, to their walls half-covered with drawing of flowers and pressed flowers and half with phone numbers and addresses of their ‘sugar daddies’. Just to observe them having fun is a cure for mundaneness of daily life. And Czech language is so soft and pleasant to the ear, especially when Marie I says something like ‘Kam jdeš?’ (Where are you going?) or Marie II proclaiming she likes food very much. Their cheeky behaviour is hilarious. Oh, did I mention it was forbidden by the Communist regime? Forbidden fruit always tastes better.

I’ve read about these two films on a website about weird films. This is what makes this film weird, according to the author of the website:

Watching the bright colors and bratty joie de vivre of Marie I and II as they slash and burn their way through square society, cutting up phallic symbols and the film stock itself with scissors, it’s hard to believe that Daisies wasn’t produced under the influence of drugs. Made a year before and half a world away from San Francisco’s Summer of Love, this proto-flower power film nonetheless captures the anarchic spirit of Sixties psychedelia; it’s a relic from an alternate universe populated by sexy Czech hippy chicks with serious cases of the munchies. Alternately described as a feminist manifesto, a consumerist satire, and a Dadaist collage, it seems that no one—possibly including the director herself—is quite clear on what Daisies is supposed to be about. Does it matter? No, it doesn’t.” (source)

***

Sedmikrasky (1966) 47

I’m an enemy of stupidity and simple-mindedness in both men and women and I have rid my living space of these traits.” (Vera Chytilová)

Sedmikrasky (1966) 44

Sedmikrasky (1966) 30

Sedmikrasky (1966) 25

Sedmikrasky (1966) 33

Sedmikrasky (1966) 2

"Tausenschönchen - kein Märchen" CSSR 1966 Ivana Karbanova (links), Jitka CerhovaSedmikrasky (1966) 43 Sedmikrasky (1966) 5 Sedmikrasky (1966) 55

Sedmikrasky (1966) 37

***

Valerie and her Week of Wonders (original title Valerie a Týden Divu), 1970, directed by Jaromil Jiroš, is different in subject and atmosphere, but what connects it to Daisies is a similar creative and non-commercial approach to film making. Valerie, played by Jaroslava Schallerova, is a thirteen year old girl who lives in a small town with her granny who, by the way, looks really frightening. Actually, Valerie’s surroundings hold a sinister appeal all together; from a pale-faced man referred to as ‘the Weasel’, a lusty priest, mass that resembles an orgy, granny whipping her self and proclaiming her love to the priest. Valerie falls in love and often rescues a boy named Eagle (Orlik, played by Petr Kopriva), who is either her brother or just her neighbour.

You could draw a parallel between ‘Valerie and her Weeks of Wonders’ and Lewis Caroll’s opium-laced classic Alice in Wonderland, but Valerie’s story has a flair of Middle European small towns, with a dash of vampires, Edwardian-revival white lace dresses, barley fields, and lots of mystery. All these weird things start occurring after Valerie becomes a woman, symbolised by a daisy splashed with blood drops. The film is an adaption of Vítězslav Nezval’s novel of the same name. Nezval was a co-founder of the first Czech Surrealist group, and I think the film’s dreamy, surreal atmosphere justifies the story’s origin.

***

1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 21970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 17

1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 141970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 231970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 261970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 20 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 19 Valerie a tÏden divÖ - neg color 2.jpg 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 22 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 9 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 25

As I’m writing this, I’m planning to watch two more Czech films – Morgiana (1972) and Alice (Neco z Alenky, 1988), and I hope they’ll be equally weird in a good way! Strange are the paths of one’s imagination; in the beginning of June I was crazy about kitchen sink dramas and wouldn’t watch anything else, and now I totally want to delve even deeper in Surrealism and Czech films. Crazy.