July 6, 2012

FILM OF THE WEEK: Daisies (1966)

by Vadim Rizov

Daisies A tornado took Dorothy out of black-and-white Kansas into colorful Oz: destruction bred creation and imaginative release. The link in Vera Chytilová’s Daisies is brusquer. Two girls are sitting in what appears to be some kind of bathhouse: Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) is the brunette, Marie II (Ivana Karbanová) the blonde. A brief discussion of the state of the world leads to the conclusion that it's spoiled, and hence the Maries will be too. Marie I slaps Marie II, knocking her backwards out of the black-and-white interior into a colorful field.

"Even those of us who love Daisies have trouble finding the proper terms to account for it," blogger/theorist Steven Shaviro wrote in 2007. Many dazzling, ahead-of-their-time effects literally saturate Daisies, their connection to broader ideological dissent rarely obvious. Within a brief scene, Chytilová will cut every few seconds to slather the shot in another pop-art monochrome. Train journeys are rendered proto-video blur, with the passing landscape anticipating the similarly dizzying effects Wong Kar-Wai would conjure up with more resources in Happy Together. The effect resembles a surlier A Hard Day's Night, with each effect is indulged for its own pleasure.


The Maries are something like Beavis & Butthead in the bodies of Celine & Julie (minus the boating). Their personalities are basically interchangeable, signaled by a shared Woody Woodpecker-snicker deployed for the slightest (or no) reason at all. Like Celine & Julie, their mutual companionship is more than enough to sustain them, and the duo disdain all other company, male or female. Solidarity is manifested through a uniformly destructive approach to the world around them. Marie I has a thing for picking up men—older, with fussy facial hair—and getting them to take her to dinner, where Marie II shows up. After slavering consumption, the older man is inevitably sent packing on the train.

The girls are basically goons, but it's important to note that their contempt isn't solely reserved for men. A (relatively) famous sequence has them slicing up foods both phallic (sausages) and ovary-esque (eggs) while a disappointed courter pleads with Marie I over the phone. The duo steal money from a woman (a landlady?) who just wants to make them coffee and have a chat. Their primary interest is in consumption: food's a big motivator, but they're equally wasteful with alcohol (drinking Pilsner Uquell through straws to get messed up faster) and makeup (smearing eye shadow like primer).

It's hard not to think of the scene in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (the film anyway) where the hip young things of the Czech Spring find, to their disgust, that a hip nightclub has been infested by graybeard party hacks. Grotesque food consumption is traditionally the province of the wealthy and aristocratic. The Maries' endless appetite is selfishly political: it's not much of a stretch to imagine that the elderly men they prey on as Communist functionaries, the only people who can hook up a lavish meal. Probably non-coincidentally, the final banquet involves the Maries crashing an empty stateroom with a lavish smorgasboard laid out for those who haven't arrived yet. They grab the Johnnie Walker Red and get to work, devouring all before them and destroying the careful plating with venomous glee.

The girls reject everything but food, answering the phone with "Rehabilitation center. Die die die." Their systematic reign of consumption and destruction leads to a suitably apocalyptic finale, in which punishment is administered in pro forma fashion. "I'm bored," one of the Maries announces relatively late. "I can't be thinking up new things all the time." At a slender 74 minutes, Chytilová is aesthetically exhaustive without leading to exhaustion. The whole film could be broken down into non-ideological visual cannon fodder for music videos. Steely in its rejection of a stratified and sexist society, Daisies remains tough and surprising.

[ Daisies screens in a new 35mm print from June 6 – 12 at BAMcinématek. For tickets and more info, click here.]

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Posted by ahillis at July 6, 2012 2:16 PM