Skip to content

Daisies – Let’s All Be Rotten

CallCake

Vera Chytilova’s 1966 Czech New Wave film Daisies has been described as a feminist masterwork, yet Chytilova instead suggests that the film is a “philosophical documentary in the form of farce”, critic Michael Koresky in his Criterion essay for the Pearls of Czech New Wave Eclipse Series even describes the film as suggestively as “an anarchic slapstick, like a New Wave Marx Brother’s Comedy”.

At its most playful, chaotic, unexpected, and colorfully stunning, the film is also a dark critique about the position of rebellious and anarchic youth during de-Stalinization and pre-Prague Spring 1960s Czechoslovakia. A hi-jinx romp through the city and the country is book-ended by images of mass scale political and capital destruction in war and industry. The last moments of the film juxtapose the criticism of the youth as in one translation “rotten” (in this version “spoiled”) as minor in comparison to larger societal upheaval of the time. The last line proclaims: “This film is dedicated to those who get upset over only stomped on bits of lettuce” suggesting that minor damage of youthful recreation should not take critical censure better directed at political leaders.

The film features the odd doubles of Marie I and Marie II ( played by two young non-professional actresses Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová) who spend their days eating, drinking, sunning by the river, and goofing around in their apartment. Like the Marx brothers, the Marias create a great deal of mayhem and a good deal of good-hearted material demolition from snipping pocket scarves to burning decorations.

Film scholar Peter Hames highlights Chytilova’s philosophy that there should be, “freedom for the audience as spectators, intending that the interplay between the director and the audience should be active”[1]

Daisies is a food feast for the Maries and a cinematic feast for us: We see girls behaving badly, crashing parties, shamelessly flirting conning overly generous old men for lavish dinners, using scissors to slice pickles and sausages in bed, publicly intoxicated and goofily dancing. Not in balance of these indulgence, but woven into these ridiculous scenes, are the Maries’ reflections on boredom, life, death, and existence. Moving, eating, drinking, and playing are routes of survival both serious and humorous in a society where the Maries ask whether anyone actually sees them at all.

In addition to the food (Jordan Schonig’s post tomorrow will say more about this), the film offers the spectatorial joy of feasting on all sorts of material visual pleasures. Primarily collections of the oddest images: from montages of curly wood shavings, to a collage of multi-colored locks, to an array of preserved butterfly specimens. Yet feasts are not merely visual, but fully sensual experiences full of texture, touch, aural delight, and good company.

 

Footnotes

  1. Peter Hames, The Czechoslovak New Wave, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985, p. 222. []