Věra Chytilová could not have predicted that nearly every frame from her 1966 film Daisies would, over forty years hence, seem perfectly composed for Tumblr, the social blogging platform. Yet each colorful scene from the Czech New Wave film drips with a sinister cute charm that Tumblr users gobble up and share readily. Thus it would be easy to dismiss the film as a slight girly frill, something pleasant to see but not worth thinking about for long. That is how I approached the film, even though I knew of its grounding in feminist defiance. Viewing it, however, proved me wrong. With the overwhelming majority of filmmakers being men, it is easy to underestimate how refreshing a female filmmaker’s touch can be. Chytilová entices her viewers to ogle Marie I and Marie II, the gamine beauties at the heart of her film, before allowing her stars to gleefully spit upon the expectations of the men and viewers they encounter.
“We’ve gone bad, haven’t we?”
The world is rotten, and it seems only logical that Marie I and Marie II should “go bad.” They travel with scissors in hand, literally and figuratively cutting whatever and whomever they encounter. In one scene, as a man named John declares his love for Marie II, the girls sit on their bedspread snipping sausages and fruit into pieces.
Marie II does not wince at his words in the photo above. She’s just concentrating as she cuts the pickle. When she later leans on the phone and disconnects the line, Marie I asks why she did that. His outpour of emotions was their afternoon entertainment, not something over which to stress for long. The girls have quite an eager stream of would-be sugar daddies, and none are slated to last long.
The heroines ascend (or descend) into unbridled jouissance, their pleasure so pure it frightens those around them. The staid couples at an evening supper club enjoy the choreographed lovers who dance for them, but cannot tolerate the real drunken giddiness of Marie I and Marie II. The two are thrown giggling and stumbling from the bar by a humorless waiter. Those witnessing their debauchery display visible nausea and nerves, the result of a confrontation with Marie I and Marie II’s thorough stomping of behavioral norms. The club is a venue for slowly sipping wine and observing stylized dance, a place where vice is indulged within stringent boundaries of good taste. Any true indulgence seems out of place in such a constructed setting.
The frictionless rapidity with which the Tumblr community cycles through images does not give justice to works like Daisies. Once posted on the site, each item referenced becomes passe. It might elicit a laugh, a share, or a raised eyebrow, but it generally does not enter any discourse beyond that. It’s hard to overstate the joys of browsing through hundreds of animated GIFs and clever screen grabs, but some visually stimulating content deserve a closer examination than the internet’s rapidity affords. Girls admire the good style and biting subtitles in Daisies when they see screen grabs from it, but I wonder how many, like me, hold off on seeing it.
Daisies draws to a riotous end. The Maries find an elaborate banquet spread in an empty room, and set upon it. Though at first they pick timidly at the food, they progress toward full feasting indulgence. They dance ecstatically upon the dining table once they’ve had their fill. Marie I strips to her bra and slip, while Marie II wraps herself in the room’s curtain. The camera closes in on their heels as they grind them into still full plates piled with food. The fashion show climaxes in a swing from the room’s crystal chandelier. No one enters to stop them, begging one to ask whether the girls are actually being “bad” in comparison to those who have wasted and ignored the available food. But guilt still stalls the girls momentarily. A jump cut moves the girls quickly from the chandelier and into choppy water. They call to potential rescuers, but none offer to save them, and the girls wonder whether it is because they’ve been bad. Another cut brings them back to the banquet room, now dim when once it was brightly lit. ”When we’re hard working and good we’ll be happy…we’ll be happy because we’re hard working,” the girls agree. First uttered in this film made in a communist state, the words are still held true in the U.S. by those stubbornly clinging to the tenets of rugged individualism. Marie I and Marie II whisper as they begin working while bound in suits of rope and newspaper. The girls rearrange broken plates and glasses, but can’t fix them. It is a farce of reform, and it doesn’t seem like they’ll stick to it long. A falling chandelier ends their well-behaved moment along with the movie. Surely the reckless heroines rebound into more capers after its landing.
This film is dedicated to those whose whole source of indignation is a messed up trifle.
Closing title of Daisies
For more beautiful stills from Daisies, see.
Another film by Věra Chytilová, Fruits of Paradise (1970)