A charming, intermittently wonderful feminist comedy, Věra Chytilová’s Hra o jablko claims as its workplace a Czech maternity ward. There, Dr. Josef John (filmmaker Jirí Menzel, turning in a tepid performance) and newcomer Anna Símová (Dagmar Bláhová, delightfully vulnerable, intelligent, strong), midwife and nurse, sharply contrast in a number of ways; for one, Josef is all business about his work, while Anna fully relates to the miracle of birth. (Later on, we see her as emotionally engaged in the birth of a calf.) These two become lovers, partly because Josef is itching for another conquest as a matter of territorial prerogative, partly because of their complementary natures, inviting both, at whatever level of consciousness, into their match-up. Josef, a confirmed swinging single, impregnates Anna, providing him with another looming birth to be blasé about—a convenient act of his that even has him disbelieving Anna’s pregnancy. (She helps him in this regard.) Meanwhile, Josef has been having a longterm affair with the wife of his principal colleague.
Understandably, Anna leaves Josef, choosing to have their baby without him. After he (unconvincingly) loses his position at the hospital, lugging his belongings, he makes his way to the secluded maternity retreat where Anna, advanced in her pregnancy, is staying. Leaving his possessions behind, Josef climbs over the fence and approaches Anna, who has been gathering apples, on the grounds. Have we witnessed a symbolic divestiture of ego? Chytilová is smartly ambiguous. Even if Josef himself believes he is sincere, his separation from his luggage may be a grand, empty gesture. Equally ambiguous, Anna flashes a quick smile before shedding a tear as she rides off, in her billowing red maternity dress, on a bicycle.
Imagine a screwball romantic comedy from the woman’s perspective. This is it.
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