THE JESTER AND THE QUEEN (Věra Chytilová, 1987)

Gorgeous in color and gorgeously lit (the cinematographer is Jan Maliř), Věra Chytilová’s Šašek a královna was written by Bolek Polívka and Chytilová, based on Polívka’s Pirandellian play. Polívka and wife Chantal Poullain-Polívková, who acts brilliantly, repeat their stage roles. Both are paired, back and forth, in two different times that are surreally interconnected. What about the elements of dream and purported reality? These slide into one another, creating a breathtaking confusion that is to the point. “I had a dreadful dream,” Slach, a castle superintendent and groundskeeper, tells us, referring to what we may have taken for reality. Chytilová and Polívka thus explore ways by which to clarify the waking nightmare of foreign occupation, where reality and unreality mix themselves up, and identity becomes an indeterminate thing.
     A German visitor, Konig, who speaks Czech, and his French wife, Regina, who doesn’t understand Czech, arrive. That is the present time frame. In the medieval time frame, Konig is the King, Regina is his Queen, and Slach is the anonymous Jester whom the Queen lords over and abuses and eventually has beheaded. But with his head intact, Slach also plays the Jester, using Regina’s makeup, for a farewell get-together in the present. Earlier, in her bedroom, Regina tries seducing Slach, who refuses to succumb to what he regards as immorality. “You’re just a jester!” she shouts at him. He answers, “I’m a jester, but I’m not a slave.” There is one more decapitation to follow.
     At the last, the foreign couple re-arrives. (Think Dead of Night, 1945.) This time, the wife is a wheelchair-bound cripple. Slach works hard pushing her up a stony path while she works the wheels just as hard. The German past, like the Communist present, makes moving ahead rough.

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