Femina Ridens Round Table: From Saturday to Sunday (1931)

Mána is a young secretary. One evening she and her roommate accompany two wealthy older gentlemen to dinner. After one of them offers money to her she realizes his intentions and flees from the restaurant in shock. She later meets a man named Karel in a nearby café. They spend the night wandering the rainy streets of Prague and the two quickly develop strong feelings for each other.
IMDB plot summary

Emily: Hi everyone, I’m excited to have the chance to talk about Gustav Machatý’s From Saturday to Sunday (Ze soboty na nedeli) with you, so thanks for participating! I have some specific questions coming out of my rewatch, but, as always, please respond with anything that you’re interested in or struggling with in the film.

1. Machatý is (in)famous for, in other movies, filming explicit scenes of women’s sexual pleasure — not explicit in terms of nudity, but in terms of how they confront the audience with this experience. You can see this in this gorgeous scene from Erotikon (1929), and in this one from 1933’s Ecstasy. From Saturday to Sunday doesn’t include a scene like this, though it does focus on Mána’s experience of sexuality, so I was wondering if (and if so, how) you saw female sexual pleasure represented in this film. Another thing I was wondering regarding Machatý and this kind of representation stems from the possibly apocryphal story that he got that shot of Hedy Lamarr’s o-face in Ecstasy by unexpectedly sticking a safety pin into her ass. Lamarr tells this in her ghostwritten and notoriously unreliable autobiography, but I think whether or not it’s true it allows us to think about how representations of women’s sexual pleasure (or even of women’s sexual experiences more generally) by men on film are often exploitative or implicitly violent. Is it possible for men to represent women’s sexuality and sexual pleasure without patriarchal violence seeping in? I’m not sure if that question is answerable, but I’ve just been thinking about it in relation to Machatý’s representations of women, which I love, and the stories about how those representations were made.

2. Sound is a really important part of how this movie works. Unbelievably, it was Machatý’s first sound film (if you’ve seen any of the painfully clunky early sound films that came out of Hollywood in 1929 and 1930, you’ll realize how virtuosic his transition to the new medium is!). Probably because Machatý was thinking a lot about sound technology, the movie thematizes a lot of different ways that mechanical devices are bringing people into a new relationship with sound and with each other — for example, the dictaphone Mána uses at work, or the radio in Karel’s apartment. What did you think about how sound works in this movie, both as part of the audience’s experience of the film and as part of the character’s experience of their world?

3. For me, this movie is in part about making the ordinary or everyday extraordinary (or, more accurately, showing how it is already so). I think this might come out of how the everyday of 1931 was self-consciously extraordinary because of the new spaces, experiences, and technologies of modernity that were available to people, and particularly to women. At the same time, this extraordinary modernity is not a place of freedom — forms of regulation both old and new structure Mána and Nany’s lives. How does the film contend with the possibilities and restrictions of these women’s modern everydays?

Let me know what you think! (Also, fun fact for those of you who love Maya Deren, her sometime husband and artistic collaborator Alexander Hammid worked as an art director on this film!)

 

 

Madeleine Wall: Your first question I think is one that we, both in terms of the blog and as educated and critical women, will often come across when interacting with most forms of art. Though the film doesn’t include explicit moments of female pleasure, female pleasure is always trapped. It’s either commodified, with the older man trying to buy her, or shunned by social norms. You can’t win. The question of whether men can express female pleasure without patriarchal norms seeping in is so important, but also leads to the question of whether female pleasure can exist on its own terms, regardless of where it is or who is representing it. Which then raises the question, what are we supposed to do in those terms? Is it possible to take empowerment from these means? Can we create our own way? Also questions that are too big to answer, but ones that are worth mulling over. I will say that the exploitative elements in this were coded as exploitative, and though watching it from a modern perspective, I was completely on Mána/Mary’s side, and I felt like the audience, even then, was meant to as well.

Though the sound was amazing, I was totally dazzled by the focus on things. The use of close-ups gave as much weight to shoes as it did to faces. Not only does this tie into the elements of commodification I was talking about earlier, but I think this ties into your point about modernity. Here are all these new devices, and though they’ve changed the world significantly and are given their own weight, things are still very much the same.

Also, I was reminded of one of Femina Ridens’s favourite films, Daisies (1966). The switching of names (which is tied up in who Mána/Mary wants to be and how others see her), the two women being taken out by older men, the focus on objects again… I’m sure Chytilová was satirizing the cultural norms that this film depicts, but parts of it felt too close, you know? I can’t imagine she wasn’t familiar with this film before making Daisies, since it completely upends and undermines what’s depicted in this film.

Also, I really, really love the idea of having a completely unreliable autobiography.

 

 

Dana: I think it’s a great question to think about the exploitative nature of female sexuality in the movie. I was so happy to see Mána let down her guard and, at least seemingly, act upon her sexuality for herself, how she wanted; but I also got a sinking feeling in my stomach when Karel was watching her as she slept. Even though he ended up (for the most part) being respectful to her! I was waiting for him to be a predatory creep, and I was pleasantly surprised when he wasn’t. But even then, as Maddy said, Mána’s behavior is presented in a non-judgemental way, we’re on her side and we see things through her eyes. It’s a nice little detail that Karel calls her “Mána,” her Czech name (I assume) versus the Westernized “Mary” she gets from Ervin.

The sound was amazing – my favorite “gag” in the film was listening to the dictation that Mána was taking down over the headphones. I think that extends to the weird song and dance number with the moon and the winking stars – it’s this amazing little surrealistic moment in an otherwise pretty realistic film! Those kinds of details are what really made me take notice of the participation of Alexander Hammid.

What did you all think of the end? I watched the film with my husband, who was profoundly bummed out at the end of the movie – he assumed that Mána died, and the end was a fantasy about her relationship with Karel. I, on the other hand, figured that she lives (in the traditional melodrama fashion), so I was sweetly touched at the end. What do you all think? Does that change the way you see the film?

 
Julia:  In regards to questions about choices, sexuality, patriarchy, and the representation of women – I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of the great texts I read by feminist historians Mariana Valverde and Veronica Strong-Boag. While both of those historians focus on the Canadian context in the 1910-1930s, which was quite different than brand new Czechoslovakia, gender norms were challenged post-war around the world, and I wonder how much that is reflected in Machatý’s films. In From Saturday to Sunday, the fact that the two main characters are single working women reminded me how fraught a time it was to be just that – a single, working woman (presumed heterosexual, of course). It was socially acceptable for married women to take on part-time work – very specific kinds of work – as long as it did not mean they earned more than their husbands, and as long as it did not interfere with “child-rearing” and baby making. But single women, like Mary/Mána, were deemed dangerous, threatening to the social order. Not just because they were potentially taking work away from unemployed men, but because they were young and nubile and could fall prey the ugly underworld of sex, drugs, and so on. I COULD RAMBLE ON but if these ideas interest you, I recommend The Age of Light, Soap and Water: Moral Reform in English Canada by Mariana Valverde or The Girl of the New Day: Canadian Working Women in the 1920s by Veronica Strong-Boag (JSTOR link here). Page 143 of The Girl of the New Day speaks specifically to the working conditions of stenographers or telegraph operators, which I suppose is the category Mary/Mána fall into. In short, these ideas came back to me because the film surprised me in the way I did not feel this script was imposed on them? Even though it is, ostensibly, a love story.

Selection from page 143 of Veronica Strong-Boag’s The Girl of the New Day: Canadian Working Women in the 1920s

In case you didn’t know, I make radio. Sound, the way we can tell stories differently using sounds, fascinates me. I was really compelled by the use of sound in the film, as Emily pointed out, but especially as a scene transition. When Mary/Mána is caught out in the rain with Karel, the only cue for the audience as to why they are compelled to go inside is the faint sound of the organ playing… To change a scene in a film in this way was so very new! Loved this.

I definitely thought of Daisies – and like Maddy, wonder if Chytilová was hinting at/directly referencing earlier Czech cinema? The scene where the two are giggling, talking about how stupid the rich man is, made me wonder if it would go in an over the top rampage of debauchery like in Daisies. I loved the surreal song and dance scene!

Visually, the shadows and close ups were just delicious. I loved how different and hazy the faces of the characters looked in the drunken close-ups, or the lovestruck close-ups, and the shadows in the office were so theatrical. Also, some of the scenes with their beautiful fur coats made me think of old 1930s copies of American Furrier magazines I have. Mary/Mána at one point kept tucking into her collar and evoked this image of Leonor Fini for me.

saturday fur

 
Emily: First, I wanted to respond to Maddy’s thoughts about women’s pleasure in this movie. With the absence of an explicitly depicted sex scene in the Machatý tradition between Karel and Mána/Mary I really felt what you articulated, that “female pleasure is always trapped,” formally in this movie as well as socially: her pleasure in their sexual encounter is something we must impute to her based on her behaviour before and after the event, something that makes me uncomfortable (especially given her initial and repeated refusals to sleep with Karel, a resistance muted with the fall of her hand – such an ambiguous gesture). Overall, like Dana mentioned, Karel comes off as a fairly nice and respectful guy (I was, for instance, surprised when he failed to spy on her changing – talk about a low bar for decency!), but even so Mána/Mary’s experience of their encounter is elided, leaving us with an absence we can fill (or not) in a number of ways. But, as Maddy was pointing out, even if a sex scene was present, does that change anything? Women’s pleasure doesn’t fit, formally, into films, or, socially, into the structures of desire and power that organize our relationships; it’s itself an absence that we can fill in various ways, but ways that have to fit themselves into the spaces left for us.

That said, I did find some moments in this film that spoke powerfully to me as expressions of women’s desire and pleasure, both during the final drunken dance scene before they leave for the hotel. In the middle of that scene there’s this anonymous dancing women who appears. Even though she is dancing with someone, he barely exists for us because her presence is so powerful (indeed, as they dance, he moves in and out of the frame as she comes to fill it; this almost gives the sense that she is leading the dance though of course traditionally he would do so). Her gaze has an erotic intensity that honestly takes my breath away. In this moment the focus is on her desire, her pleasure, her gaze; the man is the object of it but is irrelevent outside of that function. I loved that in the midst of this scene in which the theme is basically women’s exploitation in the new arenas of modern pleasure (when this woman appears Ervin has already slipped his money into Mána/Mary’s purse) we are shown how this can also, briefly, but so importantly, be a place of pleasure on women’s terms.

 

A few minutes later there’s a more ambiguous representation that fascinated me. We see Nany’s inscrutable face as she listens to the music and smokes a cigarette:

 

 

I was thinking about this moment (interestingly, like the one I just talked about, a silent one other than the diagetic music) in the context of what you raised about the focus on things, Maddy, which was one of the things (ha) that struck me most about the movie when I first watched it: the way these objects populate the screen and how gloves or cake become, in some sense, as important as the protagonists. As you’re pointing out, this is totally embedded in the context of objectification/commodification in which women exist to be bought or used by men. I felt in this moment so much that we see Nany as an object (or supposed-to-be object) on the screen, but in a way that completely exceeds the terms on which she is supposed to exist in this system (of film, of culture). We look at her face and know that she is thinking, that she wants things, but we have no access to those thoughts and desires, and never will. This made me think of a passage from Bill Brown’s “Thing Theory” (which begins to outline a theory of what the “thing” is) that my brilliant adviser recently reminded me of: that “We look through objects because there are codes by which our interpretive attention makes them meaningful, because there is a discourse of objectivity that allows us to use them as facts. A thing, in contrast, can hardly function as a window. We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us: when the drill breaks, when the car stalls, when the windows get filthy, when their flow within the circuits of production and distribution, consumption and exhibition, has been arrested, however momentarily. The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject and thus the story of how the thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation” (4). If Mána/Mary and Nany are objects in this patriachal/capitalist system, moments like these might show us how they can arrest those systems of production and consumption by refusing to work for or within them, by refusing to mean something or reveal meaning according to their terms. Even if these women are relentlessly objectified (by society, by the camera) there is a way that by becoming things that exceed this objectification, they refuse its violences of apprehension.

Dana, I had never considered your partner’s interpretation (that she dies) even though now that I think of it it’s a perfectly logical way to read that conclusion! This is really interesting to me, and maybe shows that I’m an eternal optimist. But this ending does raise a lot of questions! Even if Mána/Mary is saved, she ends the movie (aside from the final, brief vignette of her taking Karel’s call at the office) passive/passed out in Karel’s arms, a visual and thematic callback to her limp hand during their sexual encounter. Even if we read this ending in the happiest way, how happy it actually is remains a question.

 

 

Finally, Julia, I loved the different sources you called on here! I especially liked the emphasis, in the passage you excerpted for us, on how practices labeled as trivial and consumeristic (focusing on dresses and boys, paint and powder) could actually be part of a potentially transgressive exercise of sexual agency for women. I think this kind of fear of the sexually and economically independent women you so beautifully described for us is so evident in the Hollywood films of this time period, in particular the endless gold-digger dramas of the pre-code era (which, duh, I completely love and one of which we should definitely watch together at one point). The interesting thing about this movie is that, as all of you have pointed out in various ways, these kinds of investments in modern practices of consumer display and sexual experimentation by these women are not really judged or disciplined harshly by the film: it’s pretty firmly on their side. Instead, the gross man who wants to eat women like they’re cake is the villain. Even at the end of the film (when his grossness about the money precipitates the final crisis) I felt like Mána/Mary and Karel were both more upset about the implication that she’d stolen money from the man rather than the implication that she had had sex with him for money, though I could be mistaken about that. Of course, from a critical feminist perspective, neither of those actions are shameful, but the fact that the movie seemed generally pretty cool with the fact that Mána and Nany were doing what they could for themselves (and getting pleasure and money where they could, particularly in Nany’s case) without judging them for it was really fascinating and exciting. I wonder whether the ending complicates that relative lack of judgment, though, with the suicide attempt: are we meant to feel its a justified reaction to the shame she justifiably feels, or an overreaction to a system that is set up to condemn her in precisely these ways for overstepping her traditional place and role? I interpreted it, again, in a more optimistic way, but it is (like most things in this movie) equivocal.

 

 

Madeleine Wall: OKAY SO I’ve yet to read the Thing piece but the quote is super Heidegger (I assume he’s cited heavily? If not, j’accuse!) (will I ever escape him).

So overall, all of you have excellent points (and are excellent). To do a roundabout build on all your points – I also didn’t read the end as a suicide, but I can see where Darren is coming from. I never felt like the suicide/suicide attempt was an overreaction. It’s clear from the film that she has no place in this world. And to tie back to things, and them not working, she’s an object in revolt, simply by revolting her objectness. She tried, but the world beat back, so why not give up on the world? How dare they expect her to be satisfied with passivity?

The woman dancing was incredibly captivating (I definitely took stills) mostly because it exists as an aside. Who is she? What is her life? There’s no narrative linking of her with our characters. They’re ships passing in the night. But in a world where the lives our of protagonists are getting narrower and narrower, to the point where suicide is attempted, this woman presents the option of another world. Not theirs, but one adjacent, and therefore achievable. This random woman with magnificent eyebrows is a kind of hope. She was able to create a world of her own, so why couldn’t Mána/Mary? Maybe that’s why I never thought of her as dead – she gave up on one world, was saved, and is now able to create her own.

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