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Bucket List Movie #474: Daisies (1966)
This past year we lost a rather unsung, innovative woman: director Vera Chytilova. The late 1950s and pretty much the rest of the 1960s were all about youth culture and especially New Waves. There was the French New Wave, with films such as The 400 Blows and Jules and Jim, films that challenged conventional storytelling and film techniques. The Czech New Wave, on the other hand, tends to get lost in the shuffle, and if ever there was a right place and time for something new, it was Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. A rigid communist state, Chytilova got herself banned from the Czech film industry with today's BLM, 1966's Daisies. One of the most unapologetically avant garde films ever made, Daisies has been praised as a feminist film, a subversive take on traditional storytelling, an attack on the bourgeoisie, a satire against people against bourgeoisie, and an innovative work by that veritable unicorn in the film industry, the woman director. What do I think Daisies is? It's everything and nothing all at once, which makes it a deliciously inscrutable puzzle.
Daisies tells the story (such as it were) of two sisters, both named Marie, played Jitka Cerhova and Ivana Karbanova. Marie 1 has girlish black pigtails, while Marie 2 has a red bob constantly adorned with a floral hair wreath. They start the movie indolently pondering the sorry state of the world (while one sticks her finger in her nose and the other plays the trumpet). The world has gone bad, they reason, so why bother to behave? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? What follows is wining, dining, and ditching rich old men, mindlessly stuffing their faces with whatever food they can get their hands on, pulling a Harpo Marx by cutting anything in sight with scissors (one icky scene involves cutting a hard-boiled egg with dirty scissors then eating it), swinging from chandeliers, setting random objects in their room on fire, and starting food fights.
It doesn't take the viewer long to see that there's quite a food fetish in Daisies. In fact, as incredible as it sounds, its numerous scenes involving food being wasted is what caused the Czech government to ban it. In this article retrieved from the New York Times, we are given insight:
It stars two young women, Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová, as virtual twins whose surrealistically capricious exploits were as much of an audacious twitting of Soviet-dominated authority as Chytilová’s exuberant, freewheeling way of filming them. By pure coincidence, the movie was reissued in France last week; on that occasion, the critic Julien Gester interviewed Cerhová for Libération—only the second interview, she said, that she has ever given (the first was in 1965, during the shooting of the film). Cerhová was no actress at the time; she was a high-school student who had been spotted by a casting director during her performance at the Prague Spartakiade, “one of these mass gymnastics spectacles of the Communist regime.” Here’s how she describes Chytilová’s movie:
The two of us, her actresses, were really the tools of the critique that she wanted to make of a society that was pretty decadent at the time. By decadent, I mean that the society didn’t advance, it didn’t evolve in any way, something was desperately frozen. When we spoke of the West, such as in school, we had the sense of living on a separate planet. And I think that Vera also wanted to explore the idea of destruction. So she showed these two young women who thought: if the whole world is so depraved, why not do the same thing, why not grant ourselves the same freedom to provoke, to go further and further? You can’t imagine how these scenes, where we threw down the table and the platters of a sumptuous banquet, were shocking in a country where people waited on line for hours in front of grocery stores (http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/dvd-of-the-week-daisies).
Daisies could serve as template for New Wave cinema of any place or time: surreal images, no logic, epigrammatic dialogue that goes nowhere, and two protagonists who are pure id and suffer no consequences, until the end, anyway...
Yeah, I'm not sure what the end signifies, or even what Chytilova wanted us to take from Daisies. Maybe it is a satire (of what, I'm not sure), maybe it's a parody (see previous parenthetical), maybe just decided to let her imagination scamper all over the place and see what resulted. Who knows? All I can say is, Daisies is a memorable, groundbreaking piece of work by a filmmaker who deserves to be better known. It is also different in that it features sisters running wild and raising hell. There needs to be more films featuring sisters, because heaven knows we can't rely on "Frozen" forever.
This is a truly unique experience of a movie, and one of the most fascinating natural highs you'll ever have. If you love to have long conversations with your friends about films after watching them, than Daisies will whet your appetite.