THE PREFAB STORY (Věra Chytilová, 1979)

Written by Eva Kacírková and herself, Věra Chytilová brilliantly directed the satirical Panelstory aneb Jak se rodí sídlistePanelstory, in short. The setting is a vast apartment building complex just outside Prague; the complex is partially occupied, partly still under construction, with all the attendant machine-noise, mud and debris due to the latter. The overflowing, mostly unpleasant humanity, mostly within flats and in the outside mess, contrasts with long-shots of the solid, sterile edifices. As though battering these buildings, Chytilová’s camera dynamically pans, whips around and across the sides and windows, its zoom lens highly active both forward and back. Chytilová’s film is the most extreme application of cinéma-vérité camerawork to a fictional film that I can recall, lending the material, for all the film’s zaniness and slapstick comedy, a stunning degree of realism.
     The suburban complex of cold, hideous high-rises is a dead-ended descendant of the old Soviet farming commune; but most everyone we see living and working there is out for himself or herself, untouched by any group identity or goal. Doubtless, Czech authorities feel good about providing this housing (having waited for five years, one unapproved woman simply moves into an unoccupied flat); but nothing we see conforms to anything ideal, least of all human behavior. Someone at some point remarks, “Man reflects his surroundings.” A young boy who lives with his mother there, perpetually off (and both dangerous and in danger) on his own, is constantly digging through garbage receptacles.
     An elderly man, who has just arrived, notices that an elderly woman, visible on her way-up terrace, isn’t moving; everyone counsels him to mind his own business. Eventually, a black African climbs up to see. What follows is a note of anxiety followed by a note of serendipity and bliss.

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