Friday 3 April 2009

Goin' In Blind #7 - Daisies

"Goin' In Blind is a series of reviews of movies that I had never heard of in any context before I picked them up off the (physical or virtual) DVD rental shelf. Take a look also at He Shot Cyrus' Never Heard Of It series of posts.

Actively absurd.

For some reason that phrase kept coming to mind while watching 1966's "Daisies". The film came to my attention from a brief glimpse of a screencap on another blog (my apologies for forgetting where that was...), so I popped it right on the queue. It wasn't until it showed up that I realized it was another of the Czech New Wave films - just like my previous "Goin' In Blind" post about "Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders". Valerie was more along the lines of a fable regarding one young girl's temptations and choices as she becomes a woman, whereas "Daisies" is essentially a plotless set of scenes and images that guide us through the selfish yet very independent minds of two young ladies.

Director Vera Chytilova (the only female director among the male-dominated Czech New Wave) provides a strong sense of the female perspective here - empowering but also realistic as to the limitations of opportunities available to young women in Czechoslovakia in the mid-60s. The film was condemned by the National Assembly as being unintelligible and "trash". Though Chytilova made another film after "Daisies", she was unable to get any new feature into production for numerous years afterwards. She eventually went straight to president Gustav Husak to plead her case and explain her films (more about that below).

Granted, if you're looking for a basic story to follow or logical consequences for actions taken, you'll be sadly disappointed. That's just not the kind of film this is. It's experimental in its approach to colour, texture, editing...In short, just about everything. We bounce from scene to scene throughout which colour filters are used, film stock is changed and a variety of surreal and fantastical things happen - particularly in one scene where their bodies seem to get all chopped up as if they were paper dolls being used in a collage.

There's also the scene below - in the film, the second image here is the very next frame after the first image.

There's definitely some grander themes running above all the "art" and pointed jibes, but I mainly found the whole thing a lot of fun. Some of it in a Bunuel-esque kind of way, but much of it in silly slapstick form. Sped up film, drunken dancing and pratfalls are all part of the daily adventures of these two girls who admit at the start of the film that they want to be "bad". It's this opening scene (image from it at the top of this post) that had me laughing for a good solid minute - out loud. As Marie number 1 bleats on her trumpet and Marie number 2 moves her arms in robotic fashion, each body movement is accompanied by a squeaking sound as if their hinges need to be oiled. The sheer absurdity of it surprised me and appealed greatly to my funny bone...Of course, I've now ruined that wonderful surprise for anyone reading this, but so be it.

It all climaxes in a grand dining room where the girls pig out and feast on someone else's sumptuous buffet. They stuff their mouths, throw their food and swing from the chandelier. It's only after they've been "naughty" and trashed the place do they eventually decide they want to put it back together and become good again.

As part of her letter of defense to president Gustav Husak in 1975, Chytilova wrote:

"Daisies" was a morality play showing how evil does not necessarily manifest itself in an orgy of destruction caused by the war, that its roots may lie concealed in the malicious pranks of everyday life. I chose as my heroines two young girls because it is at this age that one most wants to fulfill oneself and, if left to one's own devices, his or her need to create can easily turn into its very opposite.

Chytilova seemed to actually be a strong supporter of Socialism and she was finally allowed to make films again. Of course, not without stirring up further controversy...

Without giving anything away (and there isn't really anything to give away), the final title card of the film gives us another take on the whole exercise: "Dedicated to Those Whose Sole Source of Indignation is a Messed-Up-Trifle."


James McNally said...

Girls in bikinis being bad! So much for boring Czech socialism. Bring on more Czech New Wave wonders!

Bob Turnbull said...

Though I can't imagine any other Czech new wave film being even close to the experimental nature of "Daisies", I would like to see more - especially Forman's early films. The little I know about the movement is that it was essentially wiped out once the government wrestled control of culture in the late 60s.

Stupid governments.

That's my scintillating political insight for the day...

Marc Saint-Cyr said...

Wow...between this and "Valerie and her Week of Wonders," I'm really getting interested in exploring the Czech New Wave for myself (still haven't seen the latter yet...definitely need to make more room for it on my Zip list).

Trista DeVries said...

This was an awesome review Bob. I DO NOT enjoy experimental film as a general rule, but I can definitely say that with this clear and relevant explanation it's definitely one I would consider watching, especially since I know what I'm getting myself into.

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks Trista and Marc...

I'm not sure either Daisies or Valerie are "typical" of the Czech new wave from a style perspective (actually I'm pretty sure they aren't), they do fit in with this (partial) Wikpedia definition:

"Trademarks of the movement contain long unscripted dialogues, dark and absurd humour, and the casting of nonactors. The films touched on themes which earlier directors of communist countries could rarely push through the censors..."