The film concerns the actions of two teenage girls, both named Marie, played by Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová. And it is the actions of the two girls that make up the entire plot, as it were, of Daisies. This is not a movie of linear drive or story motivated characters, rather, it is an observation of two characters, doing mostly absurd things in mundane settings. The film starts with shots of mechanical gears in motion, accompanied by music, underneath the credits. The credits and music both stop abruptly, every few seconds, to include shots of aerial warfare taken from the U.S. Naval footage from the Pacific theater of World War II.
After the credits, we join our two protagonists as they muse on the ways of the world. Marie I and Marie II are seated against a wall, facing the camera, with their movements accompanied by the squeaking sounds of rusted machinery, making them appear more robotic than human. Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) asks Marie II (Ivana Karbanová) what she's doing and Marie I proclaims, "Being a virgin." At least, that's what the subtitles say. The word used, "panna," can mean both "virgin" or "doll" and given their movements, "doll" seems more appropriate. Either way, this opening scene establishes both as innocents in the world and their very discussion revolves around the badness of the world and how they, too, will now be bad. Simple enough. But what follows is no straightforward excursion into the lives of two young women rebelling against the world but one filmmaker rebelling against the way meaning and story interlock.
To describe the plot of this movie would not only be a futile exercise, as it would just be a relaying of separate actions, one after another, with no discernible story, but it would also greatly miss the point. There is a story to Daisies, it's just not in the movie. It is the movie. It's how the movie is made, where it starts and where and how it ends. Our two young adventurous women feast upon the world (both literally and figuratively as they consume copious amounts of food throughout the course of the film) and, in the end, find guilt and anxiety the reward for working against the state. After gorging themselves on more food than most people have ever seen in one room, they mash it, walk on it, throw it at each other and trample their surroundings until all lies in ruin. After a brief detour to a drowning death for their sins, they are resurrected and desperate to right their wrongs.
Here's where Věra Chytilová turns Marie I and Marie II into perfect wards and representatives of the state. They exploit and use and waste and then, repeating the mantra of the brainwashed worker, that work makes one happy, they repair their damage but in such a haphazard and laughable way that it would be better to leave things as they were. And when it's all over, the decadence of the rich and powerful, in the form of a gaudy chandelier, crushes their very existence.
Daisies is not a tepid undertaking, a mild statement or a half-hearted film student exercise. It is a bold and exciting journey into the mythos of the state, modern life and the story of film. The very state Chytilová lampooned banned the movie for its excess, specifically the wasting of food, and the Soviet invasion in 1968 essentially made her persona non grata until 1976. When an artist makes a statement that no one in power can understand, you can bet it's going to be banned, if only to keep the masses from projecting onto it their own interpretations and meaning.
But Daisies isn't just some clever artistic damnation of the world, it's a celebration of cinema itself. Chytilová's visuals are simply stunning. Long before switching visual styles throughout a movie (color to black and white, smooth to grainy, etc) became popular in the eighties from the works of Oliver Stone to MTV videos, Daisies did so with ease. The film uses different styles, alternating time frames, redundant sets and surreal imagery (at one point, going up in dumb waiter, the two Maries look through the opening at each passing floor to see things like outdoor settings and symphony orchestras as they go by) to make the film into one of the grandest and purest cinematic creations to come out of not only the Czechoslovak New Wave, but the sixties period.
Daisies is more than just a great movie. In many ways, Daisies is the movies.
Director: Vera Chytilová Screenplay: Vera Chytilová (screenplay and story), Ester Krumbachová, Pavel Jurácek Original Music: Jirí Slitr, Jirí Sust Cinematography: Jaroslav Kucera Film Editing: Miroslav Hájek Production Design: Karel Lier Set Decoration: Frantisek Straka Costume Design: Ester Krumbachová Cast: Ivana Karbanová (Marie II), Jitka Cerhová (Marie I ), Marie Cesková, Jirina Myskova, Marcela Brezinová, Julius Albert (Man About Town)
By Greg Ferrara
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