Wednesday, July 19, 2017


DAISIES (1967)

Director: Vera Chytillova
Screenplay: Vera Chytillova, Ester Krumbackova & Pavel Juracek; Story by Vera Chytilova

Trying to describe "Daisies" by any conventional method of filmmaking analysis and criticism is not only a useless exercise, it's entirely missing the point. "Daisies" is the single most nonsensical, anarchistic, cartoonish entry in the Czech New Wave, and you can throw the mise en scene rulebook out with the bathwater on this one.

Okay, I'm gonna presume most of you are familiar with French New Wave; it's taught in most every introductory film history and analysis class, at least a little bit, and the thing that gets forgotten is that nearly every country that's produced a major output of artistic cinema to the world from it's new upstart group of young filmmakers since, has been referred to as a New Wave, and there were several. German New Wave brought up Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and R.W. Fassbinder. Eh, Japanese New Wave brought us Nagisa Oshima and Masaki Kobayashi. Sometimes the mid-to-late '60s-early '70s class of Hollywood upstarts is referred to as American New Wave, it's also called New Hollywood, currently Romania's still in the middle of the Romanian New Wave with filmmakers like Cristi Pulu, Christian Mungiu and Corneliu Porumbolu out there, there's been a couple New Waves in Iran over the years, some arguing that they're in the middle of one now....- you get the idea. 

Each of these movement seems on the base level similar but there's slight differences in each one, and Czechoslovak New Wave, have a few major differences from others. For one thing, this was a country under Communist rule at the time, so their films were typically more subversive towards the establishment than others. They were also for the most part trained filmmakers as Prague was the home to FAMU the Film & TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts, which is one of the oldest Film Schools in the world and even today is often considered one of the best in the World, many considering it the premiere film school in Europe. So they had more funding and opportunity than say the French or Germans at the time. For instance, they adapted more works from novels and stories then say the Truffauts and Godards would've at around this time, and yet they also had some subversive anarchistic streaks in them, and the means to portray that more than others.

It's that anarchistic streak that's being showcased here, 'cause while the movement did provide us with some of the great rebels of cinema, including most notably Milos Forman, Jan Nemec and Jiri Menzel, some even note many of these films as being influential in the Prague Spring in 1968, "Daisies" is one of the more notorious and surreal than others. If I didn't know it was Czech, I probably on first glance would've looked at the film and thought it was Yugoslavian as it seems to fit closer in the vain of the works of say Dusan Makavejev at the time. (They're version was called the Yugoslav Black Wave btw) 

The key word you have to remember is "montage" and not in the American cliche sense, much more in the Russian classical sense. The opening credits for instance , combine shots of war juxtaposed with the same continuous shot of machinery at work. Of course, by the time that ends and you're wondering about the making of weapons of mass destruction, we then come across our two, "heroines", Marie and Marie. (Ivana Karbonava and Jitka Cerhova) The blonde Marie (Karbonava), wears a Grecian wreath on her head and reminds me a bit of Jean Seberg and the brunette Marie (Cerhova),  has her hair in pigtails and- I'm just gonna say thing, constantly seems to look like a blow-up doll. I have no idea if that's purposeful, but I wouldn't be surprised by it. 

They, in fact, during the first scene are basically acting like dolls, sitting on the ground, in their apartment in bikinis and even when they move it comes with the sound of mechanical dolls moving their arms and legs. They make observation, that the world is spoiled and meaningless, and if that's true, then they should also act spoiled. The rest of the movie is them, over-indulging in excess. For all intensive purposes, this movie is basically a cartoon.

I mean, sure there's serious things they do, but they're just as likely to be flouncing and hopping in a field like rabbits when not slapping and whipping each other in their apartment, in the very next shot, 'cause screw continuity editing. They walk around in the middle of other peoples performances, they find a random guy and seduce them into paying for food and drink at the most expensive places, and leave him on a train alone while they steal all the magazines, or cause a drunken raucous everywhere they go as the color filters keep changing between every random jump cut and shot. By the way, I don't know how old these two characters are supposed to be in this, but they both seem like they could pass for jailbait if they wanted to, although it's mentioned that one of the them actually does have a proper job and only does all this on her off-hours. They do share an apartment, where they jump on the bed and eat food seductively and even cut of each other's body parts with scissors, which annoys each other 'cause they then have to put them back on. This after cutting up phallic food with them in the film's most famous scene, next to a nude scene that involves of all things butteflies in a way that makes me convinced this film was an inspiration for Peter Strickland's "The Duke of Burgundy" [Oh, that scene of cutting up and devouring phallic foods comes after a scene where they set their apartment on fire, and nobody remembers that part. Or the fact that they're listening to a guy profess their love to one of them while they metaphorically castrate him, and all men really). They use sex, they use their bodies, mostly, they treat everything, men, clothes, war, others as though it's a joke. Even the filmmaking techniques are basically parodying and satirizing film to death, nothing is of relevance. The two main girls weren't trained actors, and much of the film was improvised, which only adds to the gleeful unease that anything and everything can happen.

The film's writer/director, who's name I've purposefully omitted 'til now, was believe it or not, a woman, Very Chytilova. She was by far the most Enfants Terrible of the group of Czech New Wave, the only female in her FAMU class, and she had one of the most ecclectic backgrounds in the group. Starting from a philosophy and architecture background, she work in every craft behind the scenes and even worked as a fashion model at one point. Which explains the hyper editing and the occasional purposeful out-of-sync dialogue, assuming the dialogue is even related to whatever going's on in the scene. The film's been referred to as a feminist piece, which yeah, that's true enough, the fact that the two girls call themselves "Panna" is noteworthy, that's a Czech word that means both "Doll" and "Virgin", and there's a whole history of cinema examining jump from girl to woman represented by the sexualization of the person, or the sexualization of the little girl, (Thanks "Gigi" for that, you're still the worst film to win Best Picture, you sick pederast) but Chytilova calls it a "Philosophical Documentary in the Form of Farce". 

It's definitely a farce, since there's no other genre the film remotely fits into. The movie, Chytilova's second feature after her debut, "Something Different", which was a somewhat more conventional dual-narrative tale, got her banned in Czechoslavakia and wasn't able to work there for nine years, despite the film winning awards and acclaim at festivals across Europe. She's clearly capable of a more conventional narrative, but Chytilova was always more fascinated with ideas instead of story, and her films therefore have a much more philosophical bent to them overall, and are not afraid to have a title like "The Inheritance of Fuckoffguysgoodday", one of her later films. She passed away a couple years ago and worked and taught all the way to the 21st Century, her last film, "Pleasant Moments" in 2006, was about a psychologist and the stories of her patients.

The last scene in "Daisies" is an orgiastic food fight where a whole expensive table of food and wine is engorged and destroyed by the girls in their most inevitable and grandiose destruction of society. (Part of the reason for her and the film's banning, was food wastage) People don't always notice that there's sounds of artillery fire and horns of war played during their engorging of food. You could call it the scene that Kubrick never got to add to "Dr. Strangelove", but this wasn't government falling to it's basic primal urges at the end of the war, this was subversion satire of the society as a whole, an unparalleled destruction of the conventions and rules of the world. Food's often been a metaphoric symbol in Eastern bloc countries and the ingesting of it being a sign combativeness to the oppressive regime; I don't quite know what it means to strip and dance and swing on a chandelier over your destroyed food, but whatever it is, I guess we're to drown the spoiled brats until they clean everything up, but I doubt they're get that right anyway. And that's a good thing.

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