Since 1989, fans of Czech cinema have been keeping their eyes on, not, as you might think, a new generation of young directors, but instead the names who shot to fame in the liberal interlude of the Prague Spring. Stifled for twenty years many of them are now taking advantage of the freer political atmosphere, not to mention the attention, to leave off where their success was curtailed. Among them is Vera Chytilova, whose "feminist black comedy" Pasti, pasti, pasticky (Traps, 1998) was on show at the 42nd London Film Festival.
The title Traps in English creates few resonances, but in Czech it's a very different story. The form of Pasti, pasti, pasticky's Czech title occasionally leads to the film being artlessly translated as Traps, Traps, Little Traps or rather more imaginatively as All the Little Traps. But the Czech title is in fact a pun on a children's nursery rhyme, "Paci, paci, pacicky" (Hands, hands, little hands), which is usually recited with the aid of actions, not unlike "Pat a cake, pat a cake, baker's man" in English.
This may be a black comedy but it is no feminist black comedy. Beyond the pluck of the film's first half-hour, Chytilova seems unsure about what her message is and sends conflicting signals to the viewer. In the second half of the film, showing Lenka's inability to control the consequences of her actions, contradicts the first half of the film, in which Chytilova implicitly approves of Lenka's gonad-removing antics.
This is also the view of the film's marketing. The poster and the cover of the recently released video for the film show a photomontaged shot of Lenka standing aggressively over the pair wielding a hefty knife, whilst they stare forlornly at their recently detached goolies (not in-shot, I might add). Indeed, the whole selling-point of the film is that it is about a woman who cuts off her attackers' most treasured anatomical possessions.
Quite what all this is meant to say about how Chytilova feels women should react to male harassment, or even attack, is unclear. If anything the film's message is depressingly reactionary - don't resist them, even if you do you'll end up worse off. I suspect that Chytilova was aiming for a satire of society as a man's world, but she is far too affectionate towards male culture. The fact that her smutty toilet humour is so masculine discounts the possibility that the affection is ironic.
Chytilova even seems to have some sympathy with Dohnal's need to rape a woman. Following on in the grand old Czech tradition of using a protagonist's name to comment on his or her character, Chytilova names her violating anti-hero Dohnal. This is a common Czech surname but derived, or at least having the appearance of being derived, from the verb dohnat, meaning to be driven into doing something. (The word lacina, incidentally, means cheap.) This would seem to imply that Chytilova believes that her rapist did not act out of his own volition but had the deed forced on him by his sexual dissatisfaction with his wife. For a feminist, this is nothing short of a cop-out.