Film of the Week: “Daisies”

If I had to choose one film that embodied the word “fun,” Věra Chytilová’s 1966 “Daisies” would surely be a forerunner. There’s no real story to the film but rather, there are loosely connected vignettes. “Daisies” follows two girls, Marie I (Jitka Cerhova) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanova). At the start of the film, the two Maries decide to “be bad” and from then on we watch them perform various destructive activities. Sugar daddies are toyed with for free food and then tossed aside, buffets are destroyed, riots are caused inside nightclubs, and perhaps what I enjoy the most about the chaos is how the film itself is equally mad.

In bringing out “Daisies” eccentricity, Chytilová plays with film form itself. The film’s colors are constantly swapped, at one point, jump-cuts are used to distort the appearance of the actor’s so they appear disembodied, and finally, conventional spatial logic is destroyed with characters moving between physical points that aren’t connected.

Like Jim Henson’s “Timepiece,” released only a year before, Chytilová also plays with the film’s sound. She coordinates the physical movements of the actors to the soundtrack of the film, thereby creating a humorous rhythm. This play with sound is immediately seen once the credits are over and we’re introduced to the two Maries.

Lying with their backs against the wall, the two Maries proclaim that “No one understands them.” Positioned like dolls—which Marie I points out—as each one speaks, their bodies move and Chytilová layers the sound of squeaking wood over their movement, thus making it seem as if they really were dolls. Combined with the dialogue in which the two girls discuss their plans for being bad, the opening scene serves as an introduction to the film’s off-beat anarchist humor.

It’s that combination of Chytilová’s play with the film itself, and the way Cerhova and Karbanova are able to bring out the zaniness of the script in their acting, that make “Daisies” such a fun piece of work. Like “Vagabond’s” Mona—which I wrote about last week—the two Maries are beholden to no rules. Unlike Mona, however, their rebellion isn’t necessarily dramatic as evidenced by the film’s comedic atmosphere. Yet to completely see “Daisies” as a comedy would be to miss its political undercurrent.

The release of “Daisies” caused Chytilová to be banned from making films in her home country of Czechoslovakia until 1975. That was due to what the Czech government at the time saw as being anti-establishment against their communist rule. What I want to focus on, however, is not the politics of the film concerning Communism but the role of women in “Daisies” when compared to “Vagabond.”

In my reading of “Vagabond,” I argued that Mona ultimately died because she refused to take on any feminine role in society. Her death was punishment for her rebellion. In “Daisies,” the exact opposite seems to be true. The two Maries aren’t punished for their chaotic behavior until they decide to reform themselves towards the end of the film. I see that choice of reformation, and the consequences that follow—I’ll withhold what exactly happens due to spoilers—as the film arguing for the opposite of “Vagabond.” To rebel would not be to die but to be fully alive; part of the Maries rebellion are to indulge in the simple pleasures of life—eating, laughing, playing, and so on. To not rebel, however, and choose to conform instead would be the action that deserves punishment. Consequently then, “Daisies” can then be seen as a film that pushes for female-rebellion through the guise of an experimental comedy film.

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