Sunday, May 13, 2012

Daisies (1966) - directed by Vera Chytilová

"If everything's going bad in this world, then we're going bad as well!"

This 1960s feminist Czech New Wave film is a refreshing bonk upside the head.  

Daisies is a madcap explosion of colour and motion, inescapably psychedelic in tone and sharing DNA with the kind of playful toying with the establishment shown in Richard Lester's A Hard Days Night.  But while the Beatles were poking fun at the British class system and establishment, Daisies lets two anarchic 17 year old girls loose on the authoritarian Communist government of the Czech Republic.

The film-makers that compromised the Czech New Wave stated that their aim was "to make the Czech people collectively aware that they were participants in a system of oppression and incompetence which had brutalized them all."  Their artistic style was influenced by the French New Wave in editing style and they Italian neo-realist convention of employing non-actors to populate their films.   

Vera Chytilová's tactic  seems to be to throw every cinematic technique at the wall and see what sticks.  The film stock changes within scenes, coloured tints take over the screen seemingly at random, during strong motion motion the colours separate out in an acid-tinged rainbow.   At times the film itself seems to be tearing itself apart in the astonishingly beautiful train sequence, and the mindboggling cut-up sequence where the girls first 'cut' each others bodies apart, and then cut apart the very film itself.  

The two lead characters, Marie 1 and Marie 2, are giggly, bouncy and impulsive teenagers. Throughout the film they alternate between a kind of exaggerated childlike innocence in public and a more introspective private persona when in each other's company.  The notion of shifting identities and para-personalities is brought up early - one of the Marie's places a posy upon her head and announces that she is "being a virgin".   The characters seem to spend their time fleecing old men for free meals (the film is oddly fixated on food) and lounging around in their flat. They begin the film sitting stiffly and doll-like, their movements producing loud creaks on the soundtrack.  They decide that if the world's gone bad and has become corrupt then they may as well be bad too.  Makes sense to me.

There are feminist themes coursing through this film's veins.  This patriarchal society doesn't know what's hit it when the girls show up.  Reactions from the male bystanders range from horror, outrage or even being literally unable to perceive them due to their outre nature. They clearly have no need for men other than to manipulate them for their own amusement.  The girls get thrown out of bars, brush off drippy lovestruck boys and lighthearted but pointedly slice up phallic objects.  Things tend to become liquid and malleable around the girls, time and physics seem to go on holiday at whim, they make the world their own, and everyone else has to deal with it.  

The climax of the film is when the Maries stumble across an extravagant banquet presumably laid out for party dignitaries.  They creep around, carefully tasting various dishes before inevitably falling into a free-for-all foodfight, and end covered in food and joyously swinging on the chandelier.  In a utilitarian Communist society destroying food purely for the hell of it seems like an especially symbolic transgressive act.

If you're going to take on the establishment you couldn't ask for two finer leads.  Striking from what is seemingly a position of weakness is one of the best ways to penetrate the armour of your target.  The state can engage and handily dispose of a narrative about an angry masculine protagonist engaging with them on ideological terms, but is far less equipped to deal with two 17 year old girls cheekily giggling and thumbing their noses at them.  It's very telling that when the film was banned after the Soviet invasion end of the Prague Spring, the only reason they could give was that the film promoted 'wasting food'.  

I'd like to think that nearly everyone would enjoy this film.  It's beautiful, the two Maries are insanely charismatic and it doesn't outstay its welcome, clocking in 74 minutes.

You can watch the whole thing here.  I'd highly recommend you give up an hour or so of your time to it. Let me know what you think.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “Daisies (1966) - directed by Vera Chytilová”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights