An exemplar of BAM’s retrospective The Anarchic Cinema of Věra Chytilová, Pleasant Moments is a frenetic, freewheeling film that leaves one with the emotional sensation of having fallen down a stairwell for two hours, landing at the bottom thoroughly disoriented and pleased by the shake-up. A revolving door of panicked Prague protagonists with intertwined, overlapping lives are introduced, and introduced...and introduced, to the point you feel nearly overwhelmed as psychiatrist Hana (Jana Janeková), whose office they all end up in.
Hana’s professional neutrality crumbles alongside her marriage as she increasingly crosses boundaries, recommends convenience over autonomy, and loses any semblance of control in the one space she could at least fake it—overseen by the world’s worst receptionist, patients repeatedly bust into ongoing appointments, unable to contain their neuroses and dumping them at Hana’s feet. She’s wooed by a recently rich patient who’s aware he resembles actor Bolek Polívka, played by… Bolek Polívka, who worked with Chytilová in 1992’s The Inheritance or Fuckoffguysgoodday (also showing in BAM’s series), and is interested only in her disinterest in him.
But alas, when an entire city’s having a full-blown panic attack, who will analyze the analyst? Hana’s life begins mirroring her most-followed patient, lonely gallery manager Eva. Both struggle with sons who sneer at them having a sexual identity beyond ‘Mom’ or caring about men outside themselves, while rejecting their mothers’ borderline Oedipal love. (Eva’s son Pavel, enamored with Hana after briefly becoming a patient, is played by the film’s composer David Kraus.)
Martin Štrba’s kinetic camerawork builds claustrophobic awkwardness akin to fellow Prague native Kafka’s short stories, perpetually jostling, looming, and capturing the twitchy unease of urban life. Chytilová culled stories from actual psychologist and former actress Kateřina Irmanovová, who makes an appearance in the film as Hana’s demanding mother, criticising her daughter’s looks despite us seeing Hana constantly getting hit on—the charisma and desirability of “older” women in the film’s presented as given to the audience, and disgusting by those around the characters.
The full Czech title of the film is Pleasant Moments Without Guarantees, better suited to a limp romantic drama than this full-on sustained citywide freakout, and rendering Hana’s repeated, increasingly unbelievable suggestion love is the answer all the more ridiculous (especially given the film’s lackluster crop of men to choose from). Chytilová’s last feature film, Pleasant Moments is a perfect capper to a career cynical towards society while ever empathetic to the wretchedly human.