Every now and then, a director barges into your head, toys around with your optic nerve, and changes the way you see the world. That’s what visual art is capable of and what Vera Chytilová, who died today at the age of 85, accomplished throughout her career. Her feminist, avant-garde films helped define Czech New Wave and her art was so powerful that the Czech authorities censored her existing work and banned her from making any more for several years. Self described as “an overheated kettle that you can’t turn down,” the staunch Chytilová continued to speak out against the communist regime and eventually went on to direct more movies (her last was released in 2006).
The first time I saw Chytilová’s work was in a Czech Writing class I took in grad school. We watched Daisies, her 1966 absurdist masterpiece that follows two young girls as they swing from chandeliers, stuff their faces full of cake, toy with hapless men, and promote anarchy and adventure wherever they go. So often in that class, people would space out or just straight up fall asleep during screenings, but I remember everyone being enraptured by Daisies, its stunning visuals holding all of our eyeballs hostage.
And they still do, to some degree; visions will unexpectedly punctuate ordinary moments of my day. Ivana Karbanová setting fire to paper streamers, while I’m biking to work. Jitka Cerhová’s decapitated head laughing and sticking out its tongue, while I’m eating lunch. This is the great, comforting assurance whenever a great person dies; their bodies are gone, but their fingerprints are everywhere.
Watch this epic food fight from Daisies and start some trouble tonight in Chytilová’s honor.