The Jester and the Queen | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Jester and the Queen

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Since the 1960s, when she did brilliant, radical work (Something Different, Daisies, Fruit of Paradise) that arguably made her the most inventive living Czech filmmaker, Vera Chytilova has had a checkered, uneven career. This is in part because, unlike such compatriots as Passer and Forman, she chose to remain in her country, where her work has ranged from bouncy sitcom (The Apple Game) to fairly unabashed state propaganda (Prague) to more ambitious work (Prefab Story). Her latest feature--adapted by her and Bolislav Polivka from a comic stage piece he wrote, and starring Polivka (a gifted mime) and his real-life wife Chantal Poulainova--is probably the best Chytilova film since the 60s. A quixotic custodian of a castle named Slach (Polivka), who serves as a guide to a German tourist (Jiri Kodet) and his French fiancee (Poulainova), imagines himself as a medieval court jester to Poulainova as queen, and the film switches back and forth between the real characters and their fantasy counterparts. As eclectic and as aggressive a stylist as Charles Mingus, Chytilova employs wide-angle lenses, dizzying camera movements, and restless editing; as in Daisies, her fascination with power and gender roles projects a dangerous, Dionysian sexuality, and the trilingual dialogue spoken by the three leads adds complexity to the proceedings (although one has to contend with typo-ridden subtitles). Although Chytilova has never been especially strong as a storyteller, the savage wit and passion of this erotically charged fantasy-psychodrama, and the flash of the extravagant performances, certainly keep things buzzing. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, May 19, 6:00 and 8:15, and Sunday, May 21, 4:30 and 6:45, 443-3737)

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