Oct 2, 2013

Daisies




 While I was originally introduced to the work of revolutionary avant-garde auteur Věra Chytilová—easily the most ill-restrained female filmmaker of the Czech New Wave and arguably the Slavic world in general—via Fruit of Paradise (1970) aka Ovoce stromů rajských jíme about a decade ago, I soon forgot about the feisty femme of a filmmaker and would not be reintroduced to her work until my girlfriend recently recommended Daisies (1966) aka Sedmikrásky, easily the director’s most (in)famous and critically revered film to date. Although made within the state-sponsored film studio, Daisies was ultimately condemned as “depicting the wanton” and banned by the Czech communist regime upon its initial release, in part due to the wastage of food (a big no no in Marxist countries where many people are half-starving to death), but mainly due to the film’s unwaveringly and innately ‘orgasmic’ and gorgeously grotesque essence. Directed by a philosophy and architecture student who was the only member of the fairer sex when she enrolled at FAMU in 1957, Daisies is a decidedly decadent, yet critically so, Dada-esque work that has been incessantly described as a feminist flick since its release, yet director Chytilová has denied she had any pretensions towards ‘female power,’ describing the film as “a philosophical documentary in the form of a farce” and that the film’s plot-less structure was designed to “restrict [the spectator’s] feeling of involvement and lead him to an understanding of the underlying idea or philosophy.” Centering around two marginally pretty, pixie-like ‘princesses’ that both have the name, Marie, who declare a sort of retarded and ultimately fruitless (although much fruit is involved!) war against patriarchy and con a couple ugly older men into supporting their unhinged addiction to hedonism, namely voraciously eating, playing childish pranks, and histrionically demanding attention, but, inevitably, due to their own self-absorption and unquenchable thirst for pleasure, bringing upon their own annihilation, Daisies is a film about pure evil in a uniquely unlikely form: that of two cutesy girls of dubious intelligence who decide that the world is for their taking. Ultimately seeming more anti-feminist and anti-counter-culture in its scathing sentiments due to its depiction of two moronic ‘progressive’ ladies with very little gray matter who see their naïve youthfulness and mindless self-indulgence as their greatest ass-ets, Daisies is aesthetic and thematic decadence to such comical extremes of excess and ungodliness that it makes the hippie movement that hit the Occident like the innately intemperate behavior of spoiled children who think their farts smell like, well, daisies. Celluloid sitophilia at its most exquisitely and keenly yet ultimately deceptively kaleidoscopic, Daisies is a cinematic philosophical criticism of humanity at its most potently pretty and least prudish, especially for an avant-garde flick. 



 Beginning with industrial and battle footage, including the Pacific Theatre during World War II, Daisies takes a dramatic change of pace when it introduces its two cutesy ‘protagonists Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová), both of whom are in bathing suits and, despite their corny charisma, were played by non-actors. Marie II—a redhead with an unflattering bowl cut who is somewhat the ‘leader’ of the two gals—narcissistically describes herself as looking like a ‘virgin,’ but that will soon change when the two soon-to-be-lecherous lasses tell the world to go fuck itself. Before the viewer knows it, both Marie I and Marie II are dancing in front of a tree that is reminiscent of the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ from the biblical story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3 and naturally one of the girls decides to sink her teeth into a piece of forbidden fruit, which causes both little ladies to fall and nonsensically land in their apartment and make their dramatic transformation from virtual ‘clean slates’ with next to nil personalities into sinister yet silly succubi who emotionally and economically use men to support their beyond gluttonous appetites for food, attention, and girlish destruction. After Marie I cons an unsuspecting sugar daddy to take her on a date at a fancy restaurant, Marie II, using a false identity, randomly appears at the dinner table and proceeds to eat everything in sight, proudly declaring, “I love food. It’s delicious” while criticizing her dinner companions for eating like civilized folk. Of course, Marie II’s food fetishism influences Marie I to eat just as decadently as well and after dinner she belittles her ‘mature’ date due to his advanced age, as if he, being an old and unattractive fellow, can be blamed for being interested in dating a young and attractive girl. Later on, Marie I and Marie II head to an anachronistic nightclub with a ‘Roaring Twenties’-style Charlie Chaplin-like dancer and a frisky flapper, who look like they could have stepped off the set of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and whose decided decadence reflects that the ‘liberation’ of the 1960s is nothing new, but merely something that has been drastically repackaged. 



 Not surprisingly, the two girls get good and wasted and cause childish social chaos at the nightclub and afterward Marie II—the most aggressive and ‘progressive’ of the two girls—goes to the apartment of a butterfly collector and provocatively places framed butterfly displays in front of her naughty bits. Of course, dead Papilionoidea only manage to captivate Marie II for so long as she naturally gets hungry again and she reunites with Marie I to quench her imaginary starvation. On their way to indulge eating like foul food sluts, the two girls take a small rowboat for their trip and the girls discuss their decided dissatisfaction with an old gardener ignoring them, one Marie complaining, “I wonder why that gardener didn’t notice us?...Why didn’t he at least tell us off?...He wasn’t even sorry for us!...” and the other equally narcissistically stating, “What an old fogey! We’re still young…We’re young and we’ve got our whole lives ahead of us!,” but little do the two little ladies realize that their senseless and wasteful gluttony will ultimately lead to their self-prophesized premature deaths. Eventually, Marie I and Marie II end up at a rundown Soviet-like factory where they have the good fortune of discovering an extravagant, kingly feast prepared assumedly for psychopathic communist leaders. In a retardedly ritualistic manner, Marie I and Marie II gorge the food and make a huge mess like little piggies and destroy the inside of the factory, even swinging from a giant chandelier, but before they know it they are treated like common witches and dunked in water like common witches (they are more like philistine pixie bitches) with the text, “is there any way to mend what’s been destroyed?” appearing in the background. Having a change of heart in regard to the hyper-hedonism and cock-teasing trickster like ways, the girls decide to repent by cleaning up the huge mess they made in the commie factory, but in the end, their efforts are in vain and too little, too late as both Marie I and Marie II are crushed and killed by the same chandelier that they were having fun swinging from only moments before in what is probably the best death-by-chandelier in cinema history. 



 Ironically concluding with the dedication to people who “get upset only over a stomped-upon bed of lettuce” (the film was, in part, banned due to the flagrant waste of film during the production), Daisies is indeed, first and foremost (at least, thematically speaking), a celluloid morality tale, or as director Věra Chytilová told “Comrade President” Gustáv Husák—the long-term Communist dictator of Czechoslovakia and of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (1969–1987)—in a 1975 letter regarding her film: “DAISIES was a morality play showing how evil does not necessarily manifest itself in an orgy of destruction caused by the war, that its roots may lie concealed in the malicious pranks of everyday life. I chose as my heroines two young girls because it is at this age that one most wants to fulfill oneself and, if left to one's own devices, his or her need to create can easily turn into its very opposite.” Indeed, whether Chytilová’s intention or not, Daisies certainly depicts the mindless “flower power” of the hippies as a sort of self-destructive figurative road to hell paved with daisies and butterflies, thereupon making a sort of peculiar avant-garde equivalent to Italian auteur Fernando Di Leo’s less than politically correct anti-hippie flick Avere vent'anni (1978) aka To Be Twenty where two self-absorbed and brainwashed feminist hippie chicks ultimately pay with their lives for their male-hating arrogance and angelic heads being shoved way to far up their rosy little asses. Of course, aesthetically and thematically speaking, Daisies is in league with the works of Serbian auteur Dušan Makavejev, Soviet Armenian auteur Sergei Parajanov, and revolutionary Japanese Renaissance man Shūji Terayama, but also singular female auteur filmmakers like suicidal Welsh feminist Jane Arden, Austrian humble housewife turned quasi-Actionist Valie Export, and German-Jewish dyke auteur Ulrike Ottinger. Quite possibly the most ‘pretty’ and girlishly aesthetically pleasing piece of celluloid aesthetic terrorism ever made, Daisies is a rare Dada-esque psychedelic picture with enough philosophical meat and wacky humor to entertain even the most committed of anti-hippies, myself included. 



-Ty E

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