On the Road to Castration in Jízda

12 Dec

Jízda and its three main protagonists

Kinokinomozi is pleased to welcome its first contributing article. In this essay, Kirsteen Redpath from Glasgow University discusses the Czech Republic’s transition after 1989 and its affects on the protagonists in Jan Svěrák’s 1994 film Jízda. Kirsteen can be contacted through the comments section of this site or via our usual address – kinokinomozi@gmail.com

On the Road to Castration in Jízda.

Jízda, Jan Svěrák’s 1994 post-communist road movie, explores the disabling reality of two thirty something males (Radek and Franta) rocketed into a burgeoning capitalist Czech Republic.  “We are facing a major decision”, asserts Radek towards the end of the film: “East or West” (Jízda). Although intended as a geographical musing, through a polysemic reading of the text, it may be inferred that in actuality, what he is posing, perhaps unbeknown to himself, is a metaphysical question: where does a grown man, formerly infantalised under the paternalistic soviet regime turn to when his country is put into the hands of a free market economy. In analysing the relationships of individuals within the film, the characters will be treated as a microcosm of the Czech Republic’s post-communist social order. By so doing, Aňa will be presented as a symbol of globalisation, a Czech reworking of the ambitious, thrill-seeking and eroticised Western woman, so punted by the mainstream media. Honzik, her boyfriend, a paradigm of capitalist entrepreneurship – driven by conquest and consumerism. Radek and Franta, representatives of the communist past, parochial and distinctly ‘local’, isolated and perplexed by the dawning of Globalisation.

At the time of the film’s release the Czech Republic was in a transitionary period: the communist state collapsed after the 1989 ‘Velvet Revolution’, unemployment (due to privatisation and outsourcing) was on the increase, and migrants from the ex Soviet Unions and Balkans were entering the country in the hope of a better life. Thus, lacking the stability of a job and a home guaranteed under the totalitarian state, Czechs like Radek and Franta became foundlings in their own country. At the beginning of their journey Radek stretches the radio aerial, shouting “Let’s plug ourselves into the world” (Jízda). This, ironically, is the closest connection they have with global culture, considering their car lacks the papers required to leave the Czech Republic. Besides, due to their similar upbringings in a monolithic state, their relationship does not allow for cross-cultural referencing; they are not emotionally prepared to cross borders, whether they be geographical or metaphorical. Reading a newspaper, Radek comments that the credit card is now used as a measuring device. As he remarks that they “used to use matchboxes to compare the scale of things” (Jízda), their inability to modernise becomes even more apparent; in fact, they continue to use a matchbox for this purpose until the final shot of the film.

Let us briefly turn to Svěrák’s deployment of the road movie genre in his 1994 cult classic Jízda.  Taking to the open road has become linked to the theory of ‘Nomadism’: that which ‘has come to refer to displacement, usually described in positive, liberating terms,’ although nonetheless ‘often imposed and dictated by socio-political changes’ (Mazierska & Rascaroli 112). The fleeting relationships of participants on the road trip, Aňa, Franta, Radek and Honzik, we will find, correspond to this theory of Nomadism, which, on closer examination, is a symptom of Globalisation; a system which necessitates the perpetual movement of individuals, ever less likely to remain permanently in one place. For those who do remain ‘local’, there is still no option of immobility as transients enter their vicinity, stop for a short while and then continue on to their next destination. And so it continues. In ‘Globalisation: The Human Consequences’, Bauman states that:  ‘Travelling […] is in the life of the consumer much more pleasurable than to arrive’ (Bauman 84). This theory would explain why, when Aňa and Honzik become bored fighting, they “go away somewhere and fight there too” (Jízda). Thus, one may argue that relationships and ‘being’ in today’s society are no more permanent and real  than the filmic episodes in Svěrák’s  Jízda.

To turn to the purpose in making a road trip, Cohan and Hark maintain that: ‘the road movie promotes a male escapist fantasy linking masculinity to technology (in the shape of the car)’. Further to this, ‘the road is seen as an escape from seditariness and from familial duties, which are traditionally associated with woman’ (Mazierska & Rascorali 162). This being the case, it is interesting to note the subversion of gender roles in a Czech reappropriation of this Hollywood genre. Traditionally allocated a peripheral role in road movies, the woman in the form of the boldy erotic Aňa, is seen to take hold of and mould this phallic machine; Aňa’s ‘owning’ the car, exposes the shift in power relations between the sexes. Indeed, as Aňa steers the car, astride Franta, he works the brakes. She simultaneously dominates the man and the machine. Aňa, as a new passenger, announces “I’d like a drink”. The tone of her voice, however, leads the viewer to read this as a command rather than a request. Franta, unhesitatingly replies: “Can be arranged”. Aňa says “I’d like an ice-cream” (Jízda), Franta brings her a box of Magnums. Through these brief verbal encounters the dialogic structure of the movie is determined. Further to this, it is Aňa who insists on ‘freewheeling’ the car downhill, and Aňa who fetches the tractor after it crashes into the field. She has the power to damage and reconstruct. With Honzik in pursuit, many diversions are made. Both men respond willingly to Aňa’s every whim.

How then, does Aňa exert this hypnotic control over Radek and Franta?  Before 1989 the communist woman had little awareness of the Western world; her implicit role in society was that of child-bearer and worker. ‘Any stress on gender equality was regarded by the state as “the ploy of the enemy”, detracting from class warfare’ (Funk and Mueller 12). As Czechoslovakia divided, the Czech Republic became vulnerable to the darker side of de-nationalisation and the so called freedoms of capitalism: once open to Western advertising, an ‘overwhelming fascination with sexuality across mainstream media’ took hold of the country (Iordanova 140). The commodification and essentialist sexualising of women was to be whole-heartedly embraced. Pornographic images were displayed in ‘Bulvar’; trashy tabloids. Women like Aňa succumbed to the doctrine that to be a sexual object was to be successful. In certain cases, positing oneself in a hyper-sexual role led to status and social mobility, if not happiness. This is the role which Aňa ascribes herself, and through this performance, she wields control over our powerless heroes, Radek and Franta.

Through a close analysis of the narrative we see a pattern take place. Aňa toys unceasingly with her male counterparts: at one stage, while lying in the grass with Radek, she allows him to stroke her thigh, speaking in hushed tones. She does not, however, allow Radek to go further. “Why not” asks Radek, “Because I’m not turned on” (Jízda) states Aňa. When first picked up by Franta and Radek after fighting with Honzik, Aňa is heard humming a tune. In relation to this Pisters argues: ‘In singing, one can become […] child […] the power of music and the refrain is a territorial […] power […] we create sound walls to create our environments’ (Pisters 138). Thus, through song, Aňa creates a barrier between herself and her hosts.  The mirror effect of this act, however, is that of arousal in both men. In Barthes’ theory of the voice, he states that: ‘the voice is a diffusion, an insinuation, it passes over the entire surface of the body, the skin […] it possesses a special hallucinatory power. Music, therefore, has an effect utterly different from sight; it can effect orgasm’ (Barthes 110).  In both cases Aňa maintains control. Through a combination of body and speech Aňa sustains an effect of pre-climactic tumult over the men.  Her body suggests sexual availability (she explains she is wearing no “panties” (Jízda) and kisses both Franta and Radek open-mouthed while freewheeling). Her speech, in contrast to her singing, has the effect of a cold shower on both men. While playing with an ant hill, (an allegory to workers in a totalitarian state), Franta names one of the ants “Betty”. Aňa is quick to assert her dominance, claiming: “I’m the only female around” to which Radek responds “and what are you going to do if we all jump you”. Aňa with a coy smile, assuredly replies: “You don’t have what it takes” (Jízda). This, one may argue, is the reason for Aňa’s relentless flirting with both men: awareness of their powerlessness.

In response to Aňa’s comment, it can be argued that in Jízda, male emasculation is compounded as a result of societal reconstruction. In analysing scenes within the film it can be inferred that both men are rendered impotent due to the disorientation they feel after the ‘fall of communism (which) to a large extent abolished the ideological, political, economic and social framework in which men operated’ (Mazierska 217). It is clear that both men are financially challenged as they state they have only “8,000” crowns to spend on a car. While they make commodifying remarks about having sex with, and even burying “Romanian” and “Hungarian” (Jízda) girls, they do not take themselves seriously as contenders for Aňa’s affections, as it becomes apparent from her choice of boyfriend that Aňa appreciates the costly things in life. Honzik, in juxtaposition to Radek and Franta, stands as a symbol of globalisation and all that is desirous in the new Czech Republic: he is wealthy and cosmopolitan, an aggressive entrepreneurial type who adheres to the marketable doctrine that happiness is achieved through ‘rugged individualism (and) a focus on meeting self-centred needs’ (hooks 81).

In addition to the impotency Radek and Franta experience in response to the new capitalist social order, their masculinity is further diminished by the younger Aňa, whose crass eroticism (based on an artificially constructed Western model) arouses, yet simultaneously debilitates them. While swimming in the lake Franta becomes impatient with Radek’s timidity towards Aňa: “for God’s sake, go screw her” (Jízda), he urges him. Radek, emboldened by his friend’s encouragement, steps out of the water naked. Aňa, aware of his desire for her, gazes at his penis and  reflects: “the way it shrinks like that in the water […] it must be awfully humiliating.” (Jízda). As he is inspected by Aňa from the front, we, the audience, perceive him from behind. Thus, for Radek, there is no escape from the critical, compartmentalising eye. This scene inverts cinematic norms whereby ‘women, typically, must bear the gaze of the spectator’ (qtd. in Hein 6). Later in the journey, she deals another blow by commenting to Radek: “with the sun shining through your ears, you look like an alien”. Almost in the same breath, while plaiting Franta’s hair, she calls him her “little girlfriend” (Jízda). Thus, by making Radek non-human, and Franta feminine, she challenges their virility, exposing them as impotent males.

Further evidence to support the post-communist male’s impotency in the face of modern woman’s aggressive sexuality can be found in applying Freud’s theory of fetishism through the fear of castration:

Freud shows how the function of the fetish arrives from the fear of castration. In the male’s fantasy a woman’s difference (and desirability) is the result of castration. If the fear of castration becomes a fixation, the tendency on the part of the male unconscious is to replace female love objects with fetish objects that will forever disavow the fear of castration. (Williams 83).

This fetishistic behaviour is to be found in Radek: despite his attraction to, and advances from Aňa, he finds it impossible to act on his sexual desire for her. Instead, when Aňa suddenly leaves, after they have crashed into the field, Radek lifts the dress she was drying, holding it to his nose and inhaling her scent. This prompts Franta to comment: “Hey Radek, you got a fetish” (Jízda). In addition to this, Radek’s biting of his own tongue in the crash stands as a symbol of castration; the cut implying the mutilation of the erect penis. The act of fetishisim is repeated at the end of the film, after Aňa and Honzik die in the tragic car accident. The last shot we see of Radek is him pulling his T-Shirt, which Aňa had worn, over his head, retreating into a dream-like state. In fact, their whole road trip is illusory: it is a retreat from the bewildering ‘changes in political culture  […] privatization and the transformation of state institutions’ (qtd. in Forrester et al 251) and an escape into the Czech countryside and its mythologised palliative powers.

Having explored Aňa’s power over Radek and Franta, I will now turn to a brief analysis of Honzik. Barely visible throughout the film Honzik is, in actuality, the real driving force behind everyone’s movements in Jízda. Concealed by his black sports car, wearing black shades and a black outfit (a symbol of cosmopolitanism and status in the Western world) and holding a keyring in the shape of a gun (that ultimate symbol of phallic power), Honzik represents ‘the ruling position’, the capitalist entrepreneurs, who have the ability to make ‘their own situation opaque and their actions impenetrable for the outsiders’ (Bauman 33), while redirecting and limiting the movement of others. With Honzik in pursuit, time and again the travellers must make diversions. Aňa speaks of Honzik’s aggression, informing Radek and Franta: “He does whatever he wants […] with me […] he once kicked the shit out a guy just because he was talking to me” (Jízda). If this is the case, why then does Aňa return to him? Simply put, Aňa belongs to a new era of consumer culture, in which ‘materialism becomes the basis of all transactions’ (hooks 81).

Although Radek and Franta momentarily amuse Aňa with their child-like enthusiasm for games in nature, they fail to hold her attention. Lacking wealth and status, they cannot compete with the powerful elite to which Honzik belongs. Aňa’s final thrill-seeking act, this time free-wheeling in the modern car, in which she removes the key emblazoned with the gun motif, ends in her and her lover’s death. Soon after, we witness Franta discard the matchbox inscribed with ‘Made in Czechoslovakia’. The connotative message received is two-fold: capitalism may be a force of destruction but communism is truly dead. Franta and Radek are left on the open road, asking the question they have no control over: “East or West” (Jízda).

Bibliography

Barthes, Roland.  S/Z. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990.

Bauman, Zygmunt. Globalization: The Human Consequences. Cambridge: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Funk, Nannette and Mueller, Magda. Gender Politics and Post-Communism: Reflections from Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Hein, Carolina. Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Cinematic Narrative. Norderstedt: GRIN Verlag, 2006.

hooks, bell. Where We Stand: Class Matters. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Iordanova, Dina. Cinemas of the Other Europe: The Industry and Artistry of East Central European Film. London: Wallflower Press, 2003.

Jízda. Dir. Jan Svěrák, Centrum 1994.

Mazierska, Ewa and Rascaroli, Laura. Crossing New Europe: Postmodern Travel and the European Road Movie. London: Wallflower Press, 2006.

Mazierska, Ewa. Masculinities in Polish Czech and Slovak Cinema: Black Peters and Men of Marble. Oxford: Berghan Books, 2008.

Pisters, Patricia. The Matrix of Visual Culture: Working with Deleuze in Film Theory. California: Stanford University Press, 2003.

Forrester Sibelan, Zaborowska, Magdalena J. and Gapova, Elena. Over the Wall/after the Fall: Post-Communist Cultures through an East-West Gaze.  Bloomington: University Press, 2004.

Williams, Linda. Figures of Desire: a Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film. Oxford: University of California Press, 1981.

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