A Daring Czech Film Blooms Eternal

Halima Haider December 11, 2015 0
A Daring Czech Film Blooms Eternal

For super-fans like myself, it is no secret that filmmaker Věra Chytilová’s DIY ethic in directing her 1966 film, Daisies (Sedmikrásky), was intended to summon a socio-cultural revolution of a sort in Communist Czechoslovakia. Although it didn’t galvanize many Czechs into assuming a paradigm shift of the proportion Chytilová might have had daydreamed — decades after its release — Daisies has earned recognition as a Czech New Wave classic, an avant-garde chef-d’œuvre, and is crowned the magnum opus of the late filmmaker (may she rest in peace), gaining notoriety for its groundbreaking feminist overtones and surrealist cinematography that took the Czech government by storm.

A tale of debauchery, destruction, and nihilism, Daisies shadows the lurid and esoteric journey of two ennui-laden teenage girls — both named Marie (Jitka Cerhová as Marie I and Ivana Karbanová as Marie II) — who plot sinister schemes to lure older men on dates and callously binge on food and wine at their expense. The conspicuously mischievous and (at times) erotic alliance of the coquettish pair deviates from the convention of hetero-normative gender roles tethered to mainstream media of its time, and especially those of a communist Czechoslovakia in the 60s. Daisies brings the house down with its colorful imagery and kaleidoscopic sequences while leaving one feeling slightly uncomfortable (and even aroused) with its odd-ball absurdities.

In the opening scene, Maria I & II reckon that since “everything in the world is rotten,” they, too, shall become “rotten,” and thus begins their journey. Chytilová draws on biblical references, recreating her own version of the Garden of Eden, with a symbolic “tree of life” the girls encircle and dance around, throwing caution to the wind. The theme of destruction and nihilism is consistent throughout the film, illustrated by means of a feminist farce (although, in its totality, the film lacks narration). The characters exhibit traits that are both delicate and feminine, yet ruinous and absurd. Like many conventional — “norm-core” — girls, the Maries sunbathe, gussy up for dates, fasten an ardor for pastries and wine, dream of cake fights when #whitegirlwasted, and are attached at the hip with their besties. Unlike norm-core girls: they seduce each other, attempt suicide out of mere boredom, regard everything in a flippant manner, go on polygamous dates, get #whitegirlwasted only to bounce up and down — as one would on a pogo-stick — at public restaurants whilst boisterously giggling to no end, deliberately set ablaze their very own dwelling, gluttonously scarf down on a superfluous amount of cake, partake in perilous cake fights, dance on tabletops (smeared in cake), break shit, break more shit, swing from chandeliers — annihilate.

In the closing scene of the film, the subtitles read: “This film is dedicated to those whose sole source of indignation is a messed-up trifle.” The trifle referenced is the multilayered English pastry of the same name. Additionally, a city in ruins is shown with explosions from military drones overhead reverberating a singsong of destruction in the background. In sum, the film dispenses an alternate view of womanhood that is indubitably ahead of its time and makes for a colossal contribution to avant-garde cinema. It takes delicate subjects like flowers (daisies), desserts (cakes and trifles), and femininity, and puts a cataclysmic spin on it by coercing the viewers to rethink what it means to be feminine, and simultaneously question the status quo.

Its groundbreaking themes aside, Daisies is packed with an array of surrealist idiosyncrasies thanks to its colorful montages and tripped-out visual effects that Chytilová spliced together so artfully, which, to say the very least, makes it — if nothing else — a feast for the eyes. I became instantly enamored of Daisies upon watching it the first time, and had it on play — almost like clockwork — that entire year. It goes without saying that the film is a pedagogical contribution to cinema at large, not because other avant-garde films have not pushed the envelope the way Daisies has, but because its authenticity in all elements of film production in conjunction with aforementioned radical themes set it apart from its adversaries — past and present. Hence why, as the 21st century ushered in third-wave feminism, Daisies resurfaced and rose to prominence as a cult classic chiefly among feminist cohorts and artist communities worldwide.

Bear in mind that the release of the film was no easy feat for the director. It came at a hefty price as it received harsh scrutiny at the time of its release, remaining obscured to the public eye for minor things like the wastage of food on the set, and the display of seemingly controversial and explicit content (even though it did not contain any nudity, nor scenes involving coitus, violence, or gore). Due to the backlash, Chytilová was barred from working in her motherland for approximately nine year’s time and Daisies was ultimately banned. The film was eventually made accessible for public viewing and since laid the framework for avant-garde filmmakers to follow suit. Needless to say, Daisies is singlehandedly the impetus behind my Czech New Wave fandom and should be coined the gateway drug [in film form] to avant-garde cinema as it is a must watch gem. Do yourself a favor and make watching this masterpiece top priority if you haven’t yet seen it in all its surrealist, absurdist, sensually cinematic glory.

10/10 ★★★★★

Dir. Věra Chytilová

Cast: Ivana Karbanová, Jitka Cerhová

Runtime: 76 min

Release: 1966

Rating: NR

 

 

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