Daisies, Continued: “This Is What I Call Cake”
In his blog article on Vera Chytilova’s Daisies, film scholar Steven Shaviro suggests that the film’s “sheer joy”–its combination of playful formal innovation and various scenes of unrestrained merrymaking (Marie-making?)–”owes nothing to the mechanisms of identification and objectification, sadism and paranoia, that [Laura Mulvey] dissects in ["Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"]. The “visual pleasure” of Daisies, in other words, doesn’t quite fit into Mulvey’s framework, nor is it neatly positioned against the patriarchal regimes that produce such pleasure. For Shaviro, the pleasure of Daisies is hard to pin down; the film clearly “works…but we don’t have a good language to describe how and why it works.” For me, such elusive visual pleasure can be found in the film’s depiction of food, though the how and the why are still mysteries to me. Throughout Daisies, we see repeated sequences in which wealthy older men presumably hope to seduce the Maries by paying for lavish dinners, only to be shooed off to catch their trains, never to be seen again. These dinner scenes aren’t vehicles for narrative development–the Maries are clearly all about the food. And it’s not as if the Maries’ voracious appetites are merely performances used solely to bruise the egos of their well-to-do meal companions. Humiliating patriarchal authority isn’t the agenda here–it’s just the byproduct of reckless, playful appetites. If the Maries have any discernible motivation at all, we might call it hunger, but considering that they waste as much food as they eat, this doesn’t quite make sense. Even their wasting of food only teases us with interpretive possibilities, for just as we start to get the joke when the Maries gleefully slice bananas and cucumbers and sausages, we find out that apples and eggs aren’t safe from their scissors either, and the whole anti-phallic gag seems to falls apart. And when one of the Maries cuts out a picture of a juicy steak from a magazine, the film preps us for what seems like another clever food gag. Marie stuffs her face with the glossy photo and chews voraciously as if it were the real thing. Shaviro is right to point out that there’s an intellectual joke somewhere in here about destroying the “Symbolic Order,” about undermining the gap between things and their representations. The joke hits, but somehow doesn’t resonate–the joyful destruction of eating seems to resist the mental substitution needed to complete the metaphor. What resonates instead is the profilmic chew and swallow. The performance of exuberant appetite, feigned or not, is always affirmed by the spectacle of filmed feast. While we might be compelled to say that all of this raucous eating is just a stand-in for capitalist consumption, we’d have to remind ourselves that the Maries are interested only in the immediate and fleeting pleasures food can offer. They derive as much pleasure from savoring fancy dinners as they do hurling banquet desserts during the food fight finale. In Daisies, food doesn’t accumulate like property, nor does it stave off desire or sustain satisfaction. Food isn’t something the Maries possess or collect since it is destroyed the very moment they extract pleasure from it (be it through ingestion or scissor snipping). If Daisies is clearly a film that’s interested in food and eating, it’s also interested, I think, in how watching others eat and play with food on screen can be pleasurable in and of itself. Eating and playing with food doesn’t have to stand for something to be interesting, affecting, or provocative (ideologically or viscerally). That’s why it’s all too appropriate that, upon its release, Czech authorities banned Daisies for “its depictions of food wastage” (Rainforth), an offense both politically dangerous in a socialist context and somehow in excess of politics. I want to say that the power of these images partly comes from our knowledge that food, our most immediate and intimate material resource, isn’t faked on film; those aren’t ersatz pastries being scarfed down and tossed around. As much as the camera aestheticizes the colors and textures of those confections, seeming to render them surface delights, we remain excited (sometimes unsettled) by the fantasy of reaching into the screen and taking a bite.