The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Baron Prášil) – Karel Zeman, 1961

“Truth isn’t truth!” – Rudy Giuliani

“You’re fake news!” – Donald Trump

“Our press secretary, Sean Spicer, gave alternative facts…” – Kellyanne Conway

I don’t wish to link every single movie I review to current events, but I was curious coming into Karel Zeman’s The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Baron Prášil) to see how it would play in our post-truth world. Here is a beloved literary and cinematic character whose tall stories have enchanted people for over two centuries. But let’s face it, he’s a bullshitter, brazenly embellishing tales of his own amazing feats while deriding his rival as a fantasist – would Munchausen seem so charming in a world where Donald Trump constantly does the same thing, albeit with much less elan? Nowadays our social media feeds are bombarded with stories of people who, not liking the facts, make up their own and then vociferously rage at their opponents as liars. Against this backdrop, can we listen to any more bullshit on our free time?

Thankfully yes, but I’ll come to that later.

Zeman starts by bringing the Munchausen tale right up to date with a moon landing, and astronaut Tony (Rudolf Jelínek) discovers that he’s not the first to arrive – footprints lead to an old gramophone and a bullet-shaped capsule straight out of Jules Verne’s From Earth to the Moon. He’s greeted by some gentlemen in 18th century clobber who don’t seem phased by lack of oxygen, along with Cyrano de Bergerac and Baron Munchausen. They mistake Tony for an inhabitant of the moon, and the Baron decides to take him to earth to show him how things are done down there. Traveling in a galleon drawn by flying horses, they splash down in 18th century Constantinople, where their fanciful journey begins…

Narrated by the Baron himself the film plays out as a series of unlikely adventures, some of which were recreated in Terry Gilliam’s expensive flop The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Gilliam acknowledges Zeman’s film as inspiration for his bloated adaptation, which runs a full forty minutes longer than Zeman’s and seems to contain much less. I’d be interested to know if Zeman’s work also influenced Gilliam’s earlier animation style, because some scenes could’ve passed for his bizarre cartoon skits in Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

After rescuing the beautiful Princess Bianca (Jana Brejchová) from the Sultan’s palace, the gang defeat a fleet of hundreds of ships, get swallowed by a giant fish, and so on. It’s all very amusing, but by its very nature isn’t terribly engaging – it’s bullshit from an inveterate bullshitter, so by definition it has no substance to it. The total lack of substance is the main reason why it doesn’t chafe with today’s post-truth world, or reality in general for that matter – it is pure fantasy. It’s utterly charming, but I like my fantasy to have some friction, some basis in reality, or else reflect my own reality in some way. Your enjoyment of this film, beyond the riot of imagination on display and Miloš Kopecký’s marvelous performance as the eponymous Baron, will depend largely on how much you’re prepared to unhook your brain and just immerse yourself in the spectacle.

The main reason to watch this film is Zeman’s incredible special effects. Initially they look a bit creaky, and it took me a few minutes to realize that he wasn’t attempting any form of realism – Zeman is deliberately evoking the pioneering effects work of the visionary George Méliès, particularly A Trip to the Moon. Later once we’re in the Sultan’s palace, Zeman’s beautiful hand-drawn scenery is a deliberate nod to Gustave Doré, whose indelible illustrations provide us with the definitive image of the Baron.

Visually the film is incredible, and at times the sights and the flights of fancy are mesmerizing. Filmed in black and white but strikingly colorized with bright washes, there are also sequences, such as the Baron defeating dozens of the Sultan’s guard, which are almost trippy in their expressionistic shorthand. In some instances there seems to be four or five different types of visual trickery going on in one shot, and Zeman brings them together to entrancing effect. Some of it looks very creaky by today’s standards, and even by the standards of his contemporaries – the stop motion is nowhere near the quality of the work Ray Harryhausen was producing around the same time. However, the overall effect inspires nothing but wonder.

Beyond Zeman’s incredible effects, there is great work from Kopecký as the Baron, who does a great job of making the unflappable braggart strangely sincere and even soulful in parts. Thanks to Kopecký’s performance, we have no doubt that at least the Baron believes what he is saying.

More could have been made of the Baron’s relationship with Tony, which would have given the film more substance. From the Baron’s perspective Tony is from the future, and vice versa, so if the screenwriters had delved more into that aspect they would’ve found plenty to play with. Consider Back to the Future – Zemeckis and his co-writer Bob Gale never missed an opportunity to play Marty’s fish-out-of-water scenario for maximum humour, character development, pathos and drama. Unfortunately Tony doesn’t get much of a say, and is far more of a bland handsome sidekick to the colourful Baron, like Orlando Bloom to Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

So how does The Fabulous Baron Munchausen stand up in a post-truth world? Pretty well indeed, because its complete departure from reality make it strangely impervious to any modern day context, and in that sense the film feels timeless. And that’s no lie.

 

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Sun, Hay, Strawberries (Slunce, seno, jahody) – Zdeněk Troška, 1983

“What do you think of Slunce, Seno, Jahody?” I messaged a Czech friend after my first viewing of the lowbrow villagecore classic.

“Cheap jokes for people who vote Zeman.” Came her rather sniffy reply.

Sign of the times, I guess – I wanted to talk movies and she gets all political on me. Not that her reply was entirely unexpected. The film has a reputation of being loud, crude and stupid – pretty much how young progressive urban Czechs regard those living in rural areas, who tend to be the kind of people who vote for Trump-ish characters like the drunken, bigoted, chain-smoking President Zeman.

Make no mistake, Slunce, Seno, Jahody is extremely loud, crude and stupid. To give an example of the level of humour, one scene features a senile old lady trying to hide a turd from her overbearing daughter. That’s it, that’s the whole joke. However, the film has a directness that I appreciated, unlike the ponderous pace of so many Czech movies I’ve seen so far. It bounces along nicely with a goofy energy that I found genuinely charming.

After a bawdy opening scene featuring a vicar unsuccessfully trying to peep on a young couple having sex in the woods, the story begins in earnest when a handsome young agricultural student, Šimon Plánička (Pavel Kikinčuk), rolls up in the small South Bohemian village of Hoštice to help out the local JZD brigade. (JZD was the Jednotné zemědělské družstvo, or agricultural collective in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.) The village is so small that the train doesn’t even bother stopping there, but thankfully the cute conductress slows it down enough for him to jump off.

His arrival causes quite a stir, especially among the young women of the town, and his radical ideas for improving the milk production of the local cows – playing them music – raises a few eyebrows. He takes lodging with the formidable Mrs Škopková (the wonderful Helena Růžičková, reminiscent of Hattie Jacques from the Carry On films) and her layabout husband. Šimon also catches the eye of Mrs Škopková’s eldest daughter Blažena (Veronika Kánská), the blonde we saw having a spot of nookie in the woods in the opening scene with her extremely jealous boyfriend Venca (Broněk Černý).

That’s the basic set up, with the JZD initially thinking Šimon might be a spy before embracing his unorthodox methods, which involves a no-expense-spared kitting out of all the cows with their own personal set of headphones. There’s other bits of business, some quirky and amusing, others so lowbrow that they scrape along the floor. There’s some local legend involving a mill and a friendly ghost, who has a habit of engaging newcomers in conversation then disappearing before their eyes, an old granny who’s always hoping for a fight to break out, and the village teacher who can’t resist bursting into song. She’s always singing the film’s theme tune – it’s a real earworm and appears in various other guises throughout, like the theme in Altman’s The Long Goodbye.

Less funny is the senile granny – Mrs Škopková’s mum – who gets wheeled out into the garden in her bed each day and left there. She has a love-hate relationship with a chicken, and inevitably the bed ends up rolling away through the village. Other jokes were so simple they went under my head, if that can be a thing. In one such scene, another old lady (there’s swarms of old ladies in this movie) mistakes the moon shining through a small copse of trees as fire and sounds the alarm. The rest of the villagers, who are attending a dance, all scramble to finish their drinks and run outside to put the fire out, only to realise it’s just the moon. The teacher bursts into song again and they carry on drinking in the field. It’s a fairly lengthy scene, and I thought there must be greater significance, but no – the joke was: an old lady mistook the moon for fire and sounded the alarm, disrupting the village dance.

So Slunce, Seno, Jahody is extremely dumb, and the characters in it are loud and crude. I can see why my Czech friends hate it, as it doesn’t show their compatriots in the most flattering light – having visited numerous villages, I suspect the people in this film are closer to reality than the rural philosophers of Rozmarné léto.

Despite all that, I appreciated its bluntness after several movies featuring small town characters wistfully pondering their existence. It also doesn’t dance around the subject it is supposedly satirizing, unlike some of its more illustrious counterparts – it outright takes the piss out of the JZD, and as a result I ended up learning something about collective farming (Admittedly online the next day, not from the film itself.)

Slunce, Seno, Jahody might not be Oscar Wilde, but it’s worth seeing if only to find out why your Czech friends hate it so much. It’s a fun movie, and I could imagine it playing well with a spliff.

Angels (Andělé všedního dne) – Alice Nellis, 2014

Death comes to us all, and when that last moment stretches out to eternity, all men face the same questions. Have I lived my life to the fullest? Have I done the best for my loved ones? Was I man enough when circumstances demanded it? Did I dare disturb the universe? Did I get enough blowjobs?

Andělé všedního dne by Alice Nellis is a crass, tasteless and utterly depressing film. It tries to say things about mortality and kindness, but is literally about a man who thinks his life is shit because he’s never been sucked off before.

Ever reliable Bolek Polívka plays Karel, an ageing driving instructor stuck in a loveless marriage with his neurotic, sour-faced wife Marie (Zuzana Bydžovská). They’ve been married for twenty-seven years, but he’s never experienced the pleasures of oral sex. Karel has the hots for Ester (Klára Melíšková), one of his pupils and a recently widowed doctor. It is the last day of Karel’s life, and four angels arrive on earth to oversee his final few hours.

There are other characters vaguely populating the background, including Václav Neužil as a stalker, whose life will intersect with Karel’s at the most unlikely and inconvenient moment. Andělé všedního dne is a small film overcrowded with lots of thinly written characters, but its main dramatic thrust depends on this – will Karel die with a smile on his face?

If you are really, really going to make a film about whether or not an old man gets noshed off before he dies, your writing needs to be sharp and it needs to be funny. Adapted from Michal Viewegh’s book by Nellis and the author, it’s about as funny as an attack of Mr Floppy on a hot date. In the screening I attended, one person laughed once during the whole film, so I know the humour wasn’t lost in translation.

The angels sum up the screenplay’s problems. There are four of them, and very little to distinguish them apart from their costumes. If the angels weren’t so different physically it would be almost impossible to tell one from the other.

There is a bad boy in a leather jacket, a pretty girl in a floral dress, a fat man in a grey suit, and a skinny guy in a cardinal’s frock. Only the bad boy (Vojtech Dyk) and the cardinal (Vladimír Javorský) have noticeable character traits, so the girl and the fat man make two angels too many. Especially since their main purpose is to stand around telling the audience what is going on.

The angels have more to do in the second half of the film, although it is not clear what their job is, or what their powers are. On one hand, they can manifest themselves to humans as pizza delivery guys and try to spark some romance in Karel & Marie’s marriage; on the other, they can only stand smiling benignly as another character tops himself.

I don’t know why a woman would end up directing a story like this, in which all the female characters are demeaned as either objects of lust, or dried up old boots who deserve cheating on because they don’t put out anymore. Even the pretty young angel is leeringly coerced into planting the idea of blowing Karel into Ester’s head. The sexism isn’t satirised or commented on – it is simply there, as deep-rooted as the sexism in Czech society, and it is saddening that a female director would be on board with such apathetic misogyny.

Nellis tries to enliven Andělé všedního dne with some flashy visual gimmicks. Unfortunately, we’ve seen all her tricks before in much better films about celestial intervention – the angels sudden appearance on a bridge recalls Clarence’s arrival in It’s a Wonderful Life; some nifty time-freezing effects are straight out of A Matter of Life and Death; and the camera fluttering around the city borrowed from Wings of Desire.

Other than that, the film is as flat and lifeless as its characters, and looks like a cheapo rush job – summed up by Javorsky’s cardinal outfit, which looks like he rented it from a joke shop.

Andělé všedního dne is a drab, sordid little film, its sole bright points being the performances of Polívka and Melíšková, who somehow manage to emerge from this shabby mess with their dignity intact. To sum up on the blowjob theme, Andělé všedního dne sucks dick, and goes down as one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.

 

Capricious Summer (Rozmarné léto) – Jiří Menzel, 1967

Unlike where I come from in England, we tend to get long hot summers here in the Czech Republic. The good weather sets in towards the end of April and usually runs through until late September. It’s my ninth summer here now and each year, sometime around late August, when the nights are drawing in and there’s a breath of autumn on the breeze, I’m always struck by a bittersweet feeling. It’s a sense of longing and loss and melancholy, a sensation that has intensified as the years ticked down towards my 40th birthday. Somewhere inside I sigh and think, “Well, that’s another year over.” Followed by a nasty little whisper at the back of my mind, “How many good summers have you got left?”

That bittersweet feeling is captured so beautifully by Jiří Menzel’s Rozmarné Léto. I first saw it very early after we arrived to live in the Czech Republic, and initially I was quite dismissive of it. I hadn’t adjusted to the rhythm and pace of Czech films and to me it felt like a pilot for a sitcom, mainly because of its surface similarity to the long running British comedy series, Last of the Summer Wine, which followed the shenanigans of three retired blokes in a small town in northern England.

Rozmarné Léto is a perennial favourite in the Czech Republic. It is Menzel’s follow up to his Oscar nominated Ostře Sledované Vlaky (Closely Watched Trains), adapted from the novel by Vladislav Vančura. It’s a gentle yet neatly observed bedroom face about three old friends whose comfortable boredom is disrupted when a travelling acrobat rolls into town, and each one’s trousers are set a-rustling by his beautiful young assistant.

There is the mustachioed Antonin (Rudolf Hrušínský) in his swimsuit that resembles a vintage circus strongman’s outfit. He runs a ramshackle swimming baths on the riverbank a short way out of town, and enjoys drinking, eating, swimming while smoking a cigar, and grabbing his female patron’s arses. He doesn’t seem to get many customers, which gives him plenty of time to sit around trading aphorisms and witty barbs with Canon Roch (František Řehák), a pent up, downcast clergyman, and Major Hugo (Vlastimil Brodský), a dapper, well-mannered former military man.

Things kick off when Ernie the Conjuror (director Menzel himself) rolls up in his horse drawn wagon to put on a show, which largely involves doing a series of unconvincing highwire walks in a set of soiled pink long johns. He’s assisted by the beautiful and evidently very attainable Anna (Jana Drchalová), who wastes no time allowing the three older men to woo her.

That’s pretty much the extent of the plot, and Rozmarné Léto is a great place to start for viewers interested in exploring the films of the Czech New Wave. It doesn’t require a greater historical context to understand and enjoy, and isn’t as radical or aggressive as something like Sedmikrásky (Daisies). Its themes are universal – ageing, friendship, and men thinking with their dicks.

While not much happens, its simplicity and brevity is the film’s strong point. The characters, while fairly recognisable archetypes, are enjoyably embodied by the three lead actors. The film also captures a particular strain of Czech small tpwm ennui that runs at least as far back as the works of Vančura and Bohumil Hrabal, all the way through to more sour modern films like Miroslav Krobot’s Díra u Hanušovic (Nowhere in Moravia).

After nine years here Rozmarné Léto has come to represent the bittersweet impermanence of summer, and has become one of my go-to summer movies. That daze of summer it casts has also come to represent my summers, rafting and camping with friends, wine tasting in the vineyards of South Moravia, cycling in the hills and valleys around Znojmo, swimming and playing in the park with my children, meat on the grill with a beer in my hand and my feet in the grass. How many good summers have I got left in me? Who can say, but while I’m here in the Czech Republic I’ll cherish every one.

Anthropoid – Sean Ellis, 2016

Every now and then two films come out around the same time covering the same topic – Twilight and Let the Right One InDeep Impact and ArmageddonHitchcock and The Girl. A few years ago, there was a mesmerising, beautifully erotic examination of a couple involved in a kinky sub-dom relationship. It was called The Duke of Burgundy, and Jamie Dornan wasn’t in it. He was in the other one, Fifty Shades of something.

Then we had two films released within a few months of each other about the valiant Czechoslovak parachutists who assassinated Hitler’s third in command, Reinhard Heydrich. First out of the gate was Anthropoid, starring Dornan alongside Cillian Murphy, followed by HHhH, an adaptation of Laurent Binet’s well-received novel. Would Dornan be in the better movie of the two this time round?

I hate to say it without seeing both, but probably not. Any film on this subject is bound to be compared to Binet’s terrific book, which managed the tricky task of making a historic event genuinely suspenseful and exciting. The book had scope, compassion and a lightness of touch, and the chapters covering the assassination and the parachutist’s last stand in a Prague cathedral flew past so quick that I left burn marks on the pages. It’s a fantastic story that deserves a modern re-telling (although maybe not twice in the space of a year), and I dearly hoped that Anthropoid would do justice to the tale.

The first half is pretty stodgy stuff. A few pre-title notes remind us how awful the Nazis were, then we hook up with our heroes Jozef Gabčík (Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Dornan) immediately after they parachute into a snowy forest not far from Prague. After surviving an encounter with some local traitors, they make their way to the capital where they make contacts, act suspiciously, try on their dodgy Czech accents, meet their obligatory love interests, and ploddingly plot their assassination attempt.

The assassination itself is well handled, although we’re never given much of a look at Heydrich beforehand to know who our boys are shooting at. It’s a brief, shattering burst of violence that instantly breathes life into the film. Unfortunately, it is the sole highlight and there’s still about an hour to go.

Director Sean Ellis loses all control of the material in the second half. The story flatlines again up until the final showdown in the cathedral, and we spend countless scenes watching people in brown clothes arguing in brown rooms, shot through a brown filter. It’s jumbled and tiring, especially since Ellis forgets to turn off the wobby cam employed during the assassination. It wouldn’t be any harder to watch if he’d stuck a GoPro camera on a chimp’s head and let it run around among the actors.

The final shootout is the biggest disappointment. Binet’s book handled it masterfully; while never in doubt that the assassins were cornered, outgunned and doomed, the last pages of HHhH felt like the heroe’s final seconds slipping away. He puts us right with them as they hold their nerve, conserve their dwindling ammunition, carefully pick their shots, and make one last desperate escape bid.

Here, it just becomes a generic action sequence, a bunch of good-looking actors mowing down swathes of faceless Nazi goons until it’s time for the credits to roll. It’s loud and boring, and Ellis opts for an ancient Hollywood tear-jerking trope in the final moments. It has an air of desperation about it, and I wanted to throw my chair at the screen.

Anthropoid was co-written by Ellis, and he never seems to trust the plain facts of the suicide mission to be interesting enough, instead littering the film with tired old war movie cliches. He doesn’t trust the audience’s intelligence either. In a quiet moment before the final siege, one of Gabčík’s buddies tries to lift his spirits with a well-chosen quote from the books he’s reading, Julius Caesar. After a beat, the guy says helpfully: “Shakespeare.” – thanks, is that Shakespeare with three Es? He sounds pretty good, maybe I’ll check out some of his stuff.

There are some positives. Jamie Dornan isn’t the worst thing about Anthropoid, and is far better here than he was in Fifty Shades of Grey. Unfortunately, he’s not much of a screen presence and the script gives him most of the emotional heavy lifting, material that requires a more capable actor. Someone like Cillian Murphy. Murphy’s million-mile stare is well suited to a resolute man completely determined to accomplish his task, fully aware of his likely fate.

The assassination of Heydrich is an incredible story and the brave paratroopers who pulled it off deserve a great movie to tell it. Unfortunately Anthropoid isn’t it.

I, Olga (Já, Olga Hepnarová) – Petr Kazda & Tomás Weinreb, 2016

I was excited to see Já, Olga Hepnarová as part of a full house crowd on its first release. Often when I watch Czech movies at the cinema the audience is me, the projectionist and his dog, so it was pleasing to see people resisting the lure of the multiplex to support a film as resolutely un-popcorn as this. It’s a sombre arthouse character study of the the last woman to be executed in Czechoslovakia.

We meet Hepnarová (Michalina Olszanska) recovering from a failed suicide attempt, and after a spell in a psychiatric hospital she shuns her comfy middle-class family to take work as a truck driver. Bitter and alienated, she lives in semi-squalor in the family’s summer cottage, drinking, smoking and seducing local women. As her mental health deteriorates, she imagines herself the victim of a bullying society, and plots callous revenge.

Up and coming Polish actress Olszanska puts in a fantastic performance as Hepnarová. She never asks for the audience’s sympathy and is immensely watchable despite her permanently glowering countenance.

The screenplay doesn’t give her much to work with so she has to build the character from the ground up, and commits to a couple of very frank sex scenes without any hint self-consciousness. With her dark bob of hair she resembles Natalie Portman in Leon, and Hepnarová‘s voracious sexuality is offset by her awkward, stooping body language, dressed in unflattering workman’s clothing.

It’s completely Olszanska’s movie, although there are a few notable supporting turns, including Klára Melíšková as Hepnarová‘s mortified mother. The film’s sole bright spot is Martin Pechlát as a much older workman who takes a shine to the glum young woman. Hard-drinking and loquacious, his hulking presence is an almost comical contrast to Hepnarová‘s slumping, bird-like frame. The screenplay leaves it up to the viewer whether she actually sleeps with him or not, but their scenes together gives the film some much needed heart and humour.

Visually, the film is delicious. Shot in wintry black and white and rich with period detail, it recalls the highly acclaimed Ida, although the title character’s stories couldn’t be more different. Ida was about a woman on a journey of self-discovery; Já, Olga Hepnarová is a journey into self-destruction.

Although a completely dislikable character, the camera loves looking at her. Puffing her way through endless cigarettes, she often looks like a chain-smoking femme fatale from an old Film Noir or the French New Wave. Breathless? You try looking this cool while smoking sixty a day…

The main problem with this film is that the screenwriters don’t delve into Hepnarová’s psyche in any detail. When she starts writing her muddled manifesto, it is not clear whether her accusations against her family and society are based on fact, or just her paranoid delusions. She describes a hellish upbringing, yet any abuse at the hands of her family are only implied, She gets beaten up by other girls in the psychiatric ward, but otherwise people treat her normally. She calls herself a “sexual cripple”, but clearly has no trouble getting other women into bed, and although she considers herself completely alone she makes solid friends who are there for her at the trial.

The story doesn’t expand on her crimes in any meaningful direction, and her victims remain nameless and faceless. Her trial, psychiatric evaluation and execution are almost a footnote, given no historical context.

In the end, I left the cinema pleasantly sated by the film’s ice cool style, but not knowing much more about Olga Hepnarová than I did when I entered. Directors Tomáš Weinreb and Petr Kazda mistake long takes of her smoking and gazing into the distance for character building. Without allowing us close to the young murderess or her victims, her final fate leaves a feeling of “So what?”.

Ultimately, Já, Olga Hepnarová is arty cinematic junk food, a hollow exercise in Eastern bloc retro chic that leaves the viewer craving for substance once the initial aftertaste of style has died away.

Daisies (Sedmikrásky) – Věra Chytilová, 1966

Surrealist and Avant Garde films aren’t always the most popular choice for the average movie goer. Until Leos Carax’s demented Holy Motors generated some outside-bet Oscar buzz a few years ago, I’d rather watch a compilation tape of hairy builders receiving a back, sack and crack before dabbling with the avant garde.

My perspective has changed slightly since then, largely on the basis of Denis Lavant’s incredible (literally) balls-out multiple performances in that movie, and two of my favourite films of the past few years are of the avant garde variety – Dziga Vertov’s hypnotic portrait of a city in Man with a Movie Camera, and Věra Chytilová’s playful yet provocative Daisies.

A cornerstone of the Czech New Wave, Daisies tells of two young women, known as Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová), who declare that they are broken and in that case, they might as well be bad.

The rest of the breezy seventy minute run time is a montage of barely connected skits and scenes, jarringly distinguished by Chytilová’s abrasive use of different film stocks, filters, and aggressive transition between monochrome and colour.

The more vaguely narrative episodes involve the girls screwing with the expectations of potential male suitors, especially in a scene where they wring out a wealthy elderly chap for a slap up meal and some beers. Otherwise, it occasionally veers close to the am-dram, probably because the two young leads were non-professional actors.

Cerhová and Karbanová inhabit the film with a complete guilelessness and lack of ego, handling the slapstick and absurdity with absolute aplomb.

They are not sympathetic characters in any way as their behaviour is usually alienating, but they attack their roles with such brio that it’s impossible not to tag along. I’ve read reviews where the word “Chaplinesque” gets bandied about, and they certainly display a talent for physical comedy.

For all the fun and frolics Daisies remains an agitator’s film, even sixty years later. While some films of the Czech New Wave hide any subversive subtext beneath layers of melancholic, whimsical nostalgia, Daisies is clearly designed to heckle a chauvinist society, and/or Communist overlords. The film was banned, and Chytilová was also forbidden to make a movie in her homeland for almost a decade.

I think the feminist reading of Daisies is more troublesome. On first viewing, I thought – “Wow! Girl power!” – because most Czech films I’ve seen present women as objects of lust for the male characters. Even the eponymous Marketa Lazarová in František Vláčil’s wild and capricious epic is subject to the violent whims of the men around her until she eventually strikes out on her own in the final scene.

Seeing Daisies again, I felt that Chytilová’s motives were more pessimistic – while the girls lead the guys around by their penises, they still need to conform to gender stereotypes and act like a pair of giggling bimbos in order to extract what they want from the men. They’re like a pair of weaponised automatons created by the director, wound up and set into motion, mindless sex bombs antically targeting the male libido.

The bookend sequences of tracer fire from aircraft and bombs exploding reinforce the idea that an overarching malaise generated by global conflict is the larger issue, also created by men.

Daisies is a provocative, funny and exhilarating work, ideal for anyone seeking an experiment with experimental cinema. With its zeitgeisty Sixties vibe and explosions of colour, it also makes a spiky alternative choice for a summer movie pick.