Pleasant Moments is very unpleasant
With films, one always is participating in some tradition or another. There are many tricks and models and formulas that the majority of films make use of in one way or another.
And these things are not arbitrarily chosen – they are techniques that make a story or feeling intelligible to the audience. For example, there is the Hollywood Curve – where progression of events reaches a crisis point half an hour or so before the end of the film, only to be resolved in a pleasing manner, and where the characters necessarily learn something or move on.
But, people are starting to get tired of the Hollywood Curve. Things become predictable, unrealistic, unsatisfying, contrived. Such a structure now strikes us as deeply unoriginal, and hence cannot have any real effect on us.
Similarly, most other cinematic techniques and formulas are susceptible to growing tired and unreal in such a way. And a truly talented filmmaker must be able to manipulate them – not necessarily cast them aside altogether, but use them sensitively, so that the message is still put across, but in a new and relevant way.
The use of such things determines the extent to which a film can have a bearing on reality. Which, for it to mean anything, is necessary. But, on the other hand, a film, or in fact any piece of art, is not a reproduction of the messy, sprawling world.
This messy, sprawling world is exactly what Věra Chytilová is concerned with in her most recent film, Hezké chvilky bez záruky. She wants to show how messy the world (or current Czech society..) is, and how stupid and fussing and selfish the inhabitants of this world are. Now, the problem is, just as in other films where art and life are not well balanced (viz, Lola), we can see what she is trying to do, but the film leaves us cold (or, in my instance, absolutely aggravated.)
The film tells the story of psychologist Hana and her crazy patients, as they all rush around stumbling through life, failing to deal with their families, lovers, or the other members of their society.
Chytilová co-wrote the film with psychologist Kateřina Irmanovová, and centers the events of the film around Hana's appointments with her patients. This might lead you to expect some sort of psychological approach to the drawing of the characters. Sadly, this is not so. Rather than giving her characters any real life or treating them sensitively, Chytilová reduces them to stereotypes, and draws on well known formulas.
Of the people we see in the film, almost all can be linked back to familiar one-dimensional models. Boleslav Polívka is exasperating as 'himself' – that is, he plays a typical, self-obsessed, selfish, bored, rich movie star. It is surprising to see an actor who has produced such sensitive performances in the past portray himself in such a flat and derivative way. Next, we have Eva, a gallery owner, single mother, who dresses twenty years too young and throws herself at men, with no consideration for her son. This is an easily recognisable prototype. She's the promiscuous, selfish mother. Hana is the virtuous working wife and mother, who never complains. And she is, of course, married to the typical boorish, lazy husband. “Where's my dinner, woman!” Oh, how many times we have heard that before.
Every character in the film is an absolutely tired formula. What can be the relevance to modern day society? Not only is it boring to watch clichéd cardboard cutouts, but since they are age-old, they cannot tell us anything about modern times that we do not already know.
The film is absolutely unsympathetic, as it is totally unrealistic. The characters are either entirely selfish and stupid (Eva, or the husband..), or entirely virtuous (Hana). Surely someone of Chytilová's age should have realised by now that the world is not so black and white, and that human nature is made up of gradations of not only black, white, and grey, but millions of other shades and peculiarities.
There is no real psychological insight in the film. Psychology is about examining people's actions, based on their minds and hearts. But here, we have absolutely no idea what is going on inside these people's minds or hearts. Instead of actually entering into the personalities of the characters, Chytilová dances around them with her shaky camera, which inspires nothing in the audience except nausea.
The director is well known for this particular technique, and she has relied on it over the years. But what is this technique supposed to mean? Is it supposed to underline the chaotic nature of the world? Probably, but surely when talking about the baseness of people, and their emotional stuntedness, it would be better to actually give their personalities some depth, and examine that instead of covering up the lack of any real wisdom with shaky camera work.
This shakiness is obviously meant to inject movement to the film. But if there were any true understanding, this would not be necessary.
Yes, Chytilová is an 'activist'. But does this hysterical jumping around really prove anything? What is the point in making the audience feel so unpleasant? Shouting only works if one has something real to say. And when there truly is a real message, shouting is not even necessary. True wisdom and insight can be whispered, and will still get through.
Hezké chvilky bez záruky. has nothing to it but techniques and stereotypes and formulas. Real life does not seem to come into it anywhere. We have the tired multi-linear structure, a number of flat unsympathetic characters, and a shaky camera. It is impossible to learn anything from such a film.