The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Daisies (1966/Czechoslovakia/dir. Vera Chytilova) appeared at #40 on my original list.
What it is • Two girls named Marie (Ivana Karbanová and Jitka Cerhová) cavort across a surreal cinematic landscape. I'm not sure how else to describe the setting - these are not the types of locations that are supposed to reflect an offscreen reality (nor do the characters seem to have any "backstory"). The tanning shacks, nightclubs, train stations, farms, and - most memorably - dining halls we visit don't exist in relation to one another, any more than a Western saloon and Gothic castle stacked side-by-side on a Hollywood soundstage. The Maries are a couple Sherlock, Jr.'s, leaping from film to film - or perhaps channel-surfers who have decided to wreak havoc on their favorite dating, fashion, and culinary reality shows. But even these useful comparisons are reductive, "explaining" what requires only immersion. The film toots along like a manic cut of punk pop and the best analogy might be to a loose, spontaneous early Looney Tune. Chytilova proves herself the long-lost distaff Slavic live-action twin of Tex Avery but the Czechoslovakian censors weren't laughing. They were desperately trying to squash the blossoming Prague Spring (one thinks of the Blue Meanies stomping every flower in sight, though the arrival of Soviet tanks in a couple years would put an end to such whimsical fancies). The authorities did not take this "lark" lightly in 1966, banning the film and reprimanding the fiery director. And indeed there is an undercurrent of darkness to the party onscreen, a vigorous anger undergirding the actions of Daisies' carefree apple-pluckers.
Why I like it •
The film's energy is contagious, and this is one of those movies I saw without any expectations. The rapid montages, the decorations, and the vivid colors were captivating; there's no story but the thing just zips along on the strength of its rhythm. I'm also interested in placing the film within the context of its time, against the backdrop of the Czech New Wave that yielded such divergent fruit as Milos Forman's bemused naturalism and Jaromil Jires' sharp world-weariness. I think of Daisies as belonging to (at least) a trilogy of surrealist releases in 1966-67, each twisting a different cinematic tool. A Report on the Party and the Guests subverts screenwriting norms in Kafkaesque fashion; Miraculous Virgin uses graceful camera movements to expose unseen layers or reality; and Daisies definitely hijacks the editing shears, at one point even slicing the still-lively heads off its protagonists. Not content to cut between frames, the film cuts within them, creating dazzling collages in perpetual motion. One of the themes of this Favorites list has been an appreciation of movies beyond their narratives (or lack thereof), a joy in film form as its own source of visceral satisfaction. Few movies fulfill that promise as vigorously as Daisies - it's closer to a piece of music than an illustrated novel and fifty years later, it feels like we're still catching up.
More from me • Other than Fire Walk With Me, The End of Evangelion and (maybe) Fists in the Pocket, I've covered this movie more than any other on this site. Most notably, I created The Colors of Daisies, a fast-paced, Bow Wow Wow-scored video montage of the film's full color spectrum. In the illustrated companion post, I laid out my blogging history with the film and I'll more or less repeat it here: I have written a full-length review for my "Sunday Matinee" series, devoted a visual tribute to its smorgasboard (with bonus images in the mix here), recommended it as part of my Hulu round-up, and featured a clip at 0:15 in "There's Something Happening Here" , a chapter in my "32 Days of Movies" video clip series. In fact, Daisies marked my first semi-popular post on this blog back in 2008, when I proposed a set of double features (I paired Daisies with Pandora's Box) and topped the entry with a picture of one of the Marie's floating heads - which has since become my YouTube icon.
How you can see it • Daisies streams on Hulu. Oddly, it is no longer available for DVD rental from Netflix, but Criterion has released it as part of the Eclipse label's very worthy Pearls of the Czech New Wave collection.
What do you think? • Are there any other Chytilova films you like as much, or even prefer? At the time of its release, many critics (including Jean-Luc Godard) dismissed the film as lightweight - were they wrong? Do you view the movie as part of the larger pattern of the Czech New Wave, or does it stand on its own?
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Yesterday: Through a Glass Darkly (#41)
Tomorrow: Hyperballad (#39)