Color, 1969, 95m.
Directed by Vera Chytilová
Starring Jitka Novákova, Karel Novak, Jan Schmid
Second Run (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), Facets (US R1 NTSC)
Color, 1969, 95m.
Following the release of her controversial, highly provocative Daisies in 1966, director Vera Chytilová showed no signs of toning herself down with her follow-up film three years later, Ovoce stromu rajských jíme, translated for English release as Fruit of Paradise. The storyline and title owe an obvious debt to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve as our protagonists, Eva (Novákova) and Josef (Novak), spend an idyllic holiday in the countryside at a remote house. Josef barely shows enough interest to rouse himself onto his feet, but Eva's perpetual and roving curiosity lead her around the area where she spends company with Robert (Schmid), a rakish loner who drops the key to his room. She decides to investigate and discovers a clue that ties him to a string of murdered women in the area, but the action Eva takes is anything but typical.
Complete with a lengthy, partially animated prologue rife with beautiful experimental imagery and artistic nudity, this is probably not the easiest starting point for anyone new to the Czech New Wave. Her approach proved so confrontational with these two films in a row that she was prevented from making films for several years, though by the time she resumed full force again later in the '70s she remained prolific for the remainder of her life. This film still feels wildly unpredictable and edgy with some often jolting manipulations of both image and sound, not to mention an astute use of color including some eye-stabbing splashes of red in two of the characters' clothing. It's also ambiguous enough to allow any number of readings ranging from political allegory to a symbolic battle of the sexes to a psychological breakdown of the process leading to denial and resignation, but what's certain is that it's difficult to forget.
Fruit of Paradise has been maddeningly difficult to see in anything resembling a decent edition for decades, with Facets issuing a dire, improperly converted and washed out DVD in 2006 best left on the shelf. Its relatively ignoble fate is especially baffling considering the flurry of international attention it received in 1970 including a presentation at the Cannes Film Festival and a Special Jury Award at the Chicago International Film Festival. The 2015 U.K. disc from Second Run is a massive improvement and finally offers an approximation of the film's original color schemes, presented (according to the packaging) from a fresh HD transfer courtesy of the Czech National Film Archive. Some debris pops up here and there, mainly during the first few minutes with the credits and animated sequences, but it's nothing major and doesn't compromise the viewing experience at all. As usual for the label, the optional English subtitles are top notch.
As far as extras, the biggie here is Chytilová's 1961 graduation film, the 41-minute Ceiling (Strop), which played most widely in English in the U.K. It's a black-and-white look at one woman's experience in the fashion industry that actually betrays a strong influence of the French New Wave, and in fact it would comfortably play well alongside anything around the same time from Agnès Varda or William Klein. There's also an extensive and very useful booklet with liner notes by Peter Hames, who breaks down the participation of key names like co-writer Ester Krumbachová and cinematographer Jaroslav Kucera, who also shot other key films like Diamonds of the Night and Morgiana.
Reviewed on April 20, 2015.