In the annals of cinema, I’m not sure there is a greater sustained piece of outlandish, irreverent cinema than Vera Chytilova’s towering masterwork, Daisies. The fact that it also contains some fascinating political and feminist overtones is the icing on the cake for me. As the key pillar in the Czech New-Wave movement, this film stands as an important statement from a time and a place and I consider it essential viewing. Chytilova’s film was in fact banned in her own country, and she was eventually blacklisted and unable to make films there for several years. It’s a wonder that the film got made at all. I remember seeing this in a rather rough print about 8 years ago during an Eastern New-Wave retrospective I was attending. Seeing it again in the new Criterion Eclipse series is rather a revelation. I really liked it before. I LOVE it now. It is perhaps a disservice that Criterion did not issue the film as a stand-alone or even a Blu-ray version, but nonetheless, the film looks spectacular in this new print.
Chytilova’s film follows the exploits of two teenage girls----Marie and Marie. Or Marie I (Jitka Cerhova) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanova). Their loose dialogue at the beginning of the film refers to their dissatisfaction that the world is “spoiled”. They decide right then and there that they too should be spoiled as well. They in turn, run rough-shod through a series of vignettes, casting aside any sort of conservatism and destroying any sense of moral compass or passivity or inhibition. They become free-form individuals doing whatever their basest desires lead them to. They take advantage of older men, drink beer from straws, make public displays of misbehavior, devour massive amounts of food and literally destroy themselves. Chytilova's script is not of real-world scenarios. These girls exist within a bubble....their own world, without consequences. That is until the end, when even the film itself seems to become fed up with their shenanigans, and turns on them in a fit of retrograde frustration, punishing them for their naughtiness and condemning them with a flourish of crashes, explosions, machine gun clatter and of course.....cheekiness.
If ever a free-form narrative called for inventive filmmaking, it’s this one. Chytilova’s imagination is on overdrive here as she bombards us with style. She incorporates black and white, color, sepia, monotones (in green, blue, red), fast motion, collage, jump-cuts, text narration. This is not to mention the fantastically inspired soundtrack, incorporating everything from classical music, to machine gun fire, to completely un-related aural sounds, like the typewriter sounds played over one scene. All of these effects are not gratuitous or overkill, but they are essential toward building the overall impression and purpose of the film. There is a manic energy on display here and Chytilova makes you feel the sense of indulgence that the Maries are after. One cannot separate the plot from the technique here. They build upon one another and make each greater as a result. Somehow Chytilova keeps this film from being completely obnoxious. In fact it's quite the opposite: insanely delightful.