Dir. Věra Chytilová
Czechoslovakia, 1966, 76 min., Czech w/ English subtitles
Introduction provided by Dr. Ted Hovet
“Maybe the [Czech] New Wave’s most anarchic entry, Věra Chytilová’s absurdist farce follows the misadventures of two brash young women. Believing the world to be “spoiled,” they embark on a series of pranks in which nothing—food, clothes, men, war—is taken seriously. Daisies is an aesthetically and politically adventurous film that’s widely considered one of the great works of feminist cinema” (Criterion).
“If there’s something you don’t like, don’t keep to the rules – break them. I’m an enemy of stupidity and simple-mindedness in both men and women and I have rid my living space of these traits.” – Věra Chytilová
Daisies is often regarded as a cornerstone of feminist cinema (and this is a valid assertion), but Chytilová herself would much prefer to be recognized as a general rule breaker and nonconformist.
While an overall anarchic attitude is clearly evident in the acts on display in the Daisies, this rebelliousness is evident just as strongly, if not more so, in the formal choices that Chytilová makes throughout the film.
Daisies maintains a sense of absurd playfulness and adventure (while thumbing its nose at convention) throughout its loose episodic structure that might be taken as naive or nonsensical, but if one looks closer there’s some amazing technical proficiency on display and, it becomes apparent that Chytilová isn’t just haphazardly piecing things together. She has a clear command of her formal choices.
The film opens with a title sequence cross-cutting between shots of churning gears and POV shots from the cockpit of a fighter plane. (The soundtrack alternates between rhythmic drums and an obnoxious bugle and complete silence in conjunction with the cross-cut shots.)
Cut to a black and white shot of Marie I and Marie II on a checkered blanket. (Squeaky hinges sound effect synced to their joint movements.)
Cutaway to collapsing building wall.
A perfect match on action as Marie I slaps Marie II from the urban environment depicted in black and white to a flowery field shot in color.
Insert of a time-lapse shot of green leaves moving through the frame. (Ringing sound effect.)
Jump cuts as the Maries dance around a solitary fruit tree.
Seamless cut between locations—from the field to the interior of their apartment. The use of the traditional orientation technique of matching the eyeline is used really well but in an unconventional way.
(The introduction non-diegetic ticking clocks to the soundtrack.)
Marie I walks to the window. Black and white POV shot of the empty street below. (Non-diegetic parade music).
Back to apartment.
Cutaway to apples falling on checkered blanket.
Temporal manipulation: Cut back to earlier sequence but tinted green… Close-up in color… then orange.
So, within the first five minutes of the film (including the opening credits sequence) there are around a dozen unconventional formal choices. And it only gets more increasingly experimental in its approach as the film progresses. While some of these techniques—cross cutting, inserts, match on action shots—are utilized in more traditional filmmaking, there they are used to reinforce continuity, whereas Chytilová uses them as tools of disruption.
While the much of the “wanton” behavior depicted in the film didn’t sit well with the Czech government, the formal elements were just as troublesome. “In the late 1960s, Czech films that experimented with form, or film making techniques, were criticized by the political authorities for their inaccessibility. There avant-garde nature was attacked for being too difficult to understand and, therefore, ‘unintelligible’” (Facets DVD Special Features).
From a Speech to the Czech National Assembly Condemning Daisies:
“We request all responsible news media to take up the matter and prevent these few individuals, who are understood by just a few other individuals and for whom we are not building socialism, from poisoning our lives.”
It is this element of unintelligibility that often causes viewers to be resistant or downright opposed to formally challenging cinema.
Film, like any other medium/mode of communication or expression/industry, has an established system of conventions that are widely accepted. Traditional narrative cinema is built upon a series of techniques or “rules” and a continuity editing system—the 180-degree rule, shot reverse shot, etc.—that is largely concerned with orienting the viewer in the space of the narrative and allowing for visual and aural information to be displayed in a fashion that is clear and easily understood. To challenge these conventions is a filmmaker’s tacit acknowledgment that her/his concerns lie outside the norm and what is easily digestible. To challenge the conventions is to challenge the boundaries of the form itself as well as the larger institution or social structure that has reinforced and found comfort in those conventions.