Sunday, June 23, 2013

Daisies - 1966

"Daisies" - 1966
Dir. by Vera Chytilova - 1 hr. 14 min.

2012 Re-Release Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

It's always kind of a disappointment to stumble across what looks like a good, really weird movie, only to find out that you have already watched it a few years prior.  I was annoyed by the opening scene, which brought up memories of having been previously annoyed by that same opening scene.  Fortunately, I also remembered that it got better, so I stuck with "Daisies."  But to be sure, this is a very up-and-down film, and not one that's likely to appeal to wide audiences, but who cares about all of that?

There are two teenage girls, both named Marie (Jitka Cerhova and Ivana Karbanova), who basically decide that since the world is spoiled, they also should become spoiled.  This results in a pair of a petulant girls taking advantage of everyone they can without remorse (mainly for food), all the while laughing with a high-pitched chipmunk chirp.  Eventually, they tire of their games, but stumble across an opportunity to step up matters when they come across a ballroom prepared for a feast, but without attendees.  They systematically destroy everything in sight before seeing the error of their ways, sort of .

"Daisies" is very much a film where I had to wade through how annoying certain aspects are in order to get to the parts that were meaningful or just plain entertaining.  The DVD case on IMDB dubs "Daisies" "a mad-cap feminist farce," while one of the Maries strategically holds framed butterflies in front of her otherwise naked body.  But this is one of those feminist movies where girls cut sausages and pickles in half with oversized pairs of scissors, and act like spoiled brats to get a free meal out of some poor geezer who is dumb enough to fall into their trap.  Other than that, I didn't interpret much of anything present here as having a feminist bent, but perhaps having a movie built around two female leads and no meaningful male characters qualified in 1966.  At the same time, the movie was potent enough to be banned in it's country of origin, Czechoslovakia, and director Vera Chytilova was banned from working in Czechoslovakia for nearly a decade.  It would appear that Czech officials identified rather strongly with pickles and sausages.

Despite the annoying non-stop laughter of the main two characters, and their self-indulgent behavior, it does add up to something over the short run time of "Daisies."  As I said before, I don't know how much of a feminist statement was made, but "Daisies" takes a direct shot at the rich and powerful.  After wheedling a series of free meals out of sugar daddies, one of the Maries decides that she doesn't like the other Marie very much any more.  It's a visceral reaction from one of the characters about the practical effects of their behavior.  But things don't really get serious until they end up stumbling into some farming village (after emerging from a train tunnel practically in blackface), and their coquette routine fails to attract the level of attention that they're accustomed to.  In fact, nobody in the entire town takes notice of these girls, which leads to an existential crisis.  If the Maries' deliberate poor behavior fails to produce a horrified reaction, then what is the purpose of their behavior, and indeed, their lives?  A satisfactory answer is never produced, which is a meaningful statement of its own.  Even without an answer, they steel themselves and carry on.

For me, these previous scenes turn the final main scene into a horror show.  They know that their behavior is destructive, and meaningless, and when the come upon the unattended feast, they instinctively act.  Not only that, but the Maries up their behavior.  By the end of the movie, they have become so debauched that a free meal isn't enough to satisfy them anymore; they must destroy everything in sight, and then wallow in the wreckage.  By the time they realize exactly where their behavior has gotten them, they both decide that they don't want to be spoiled anymore (as they're dangling from oars, trying not to drown in a river - one of the steady joys of "Daisies" is a sustained commitment to a sort of magic realism), which is easier said than done.  Their attempt to undo the damage they've done consists of hastily re-assembling broken plates and scooping destroyed cakes from the ground, and calling it good.  This is the best kind of satire: transferring what you're critiquing into another setting, so that people can see that behavior in a new light.

As a movie, "Daisies" is too weird, annoying, and hostile to appeal to a wide audience (which is probably why it's a Criterion Collection release), but as art it nails it's target perfectly.  I can't promise you that makes for a perfect entertainment experience.  I'm not sure that's the question that should be asked about "Daisies," however.  Director Chytilova doesn't play by any rules (the film was even financed by the Czech government, who clearly didn't know what they were getting in for, and might explain their outrage at the final product) at all, which makes for an interesting and provocative product, which is more important than the entertainment factor.

3 / 5 - Streaming

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