Sunday, January 16, 2011

Daisies (1966)

Directed by Vera Chytilova
Starring Ivana Karbanova, Jitka Cerhova

"Can't you smell it?"
"How volatile life is."

Daisies (AKA Sedmikrasky) is a quirky, highly surreal, and surprisingly intelligent tale of two bored and restless teenager girls - both named Marie - who embark on a mischievous journey to become "bad".

Banned by the Czech government (who funded the production of the film) for 1 year upon it's initial release (for supposedly encouraging wanton behavior), and only receiving a short release thereafter, Daisies is a keystone in the Czech New Wave movement of the 1960's. Viewing this film now, nothing seems particularly worthy of censoring, but at the time, many of the themes here were considered "dangerous".

The film opens with a credit sequence consisting solely of images of a locomotive piston steadily pumping and churning and stock aerial war footage of artillery fire exploding on villages, jungles, farmland and oceans below, accompanied by a celebratory sounding military march score.

From the first frame, it's obvious that Daisies has something to say. Just exactly what it is saying will likely depend on how much effort you wish to put in to it. Without getting too highbrow (at least not yet) about it, Daisies is pretty much a 72 minute collage of symbolic metaphors. Running the gambit of themes including, but not limited to: War, society (specifically the bourgeoisie), femininity, the nature of existence, communism, and conformity, Daisies makes for quite the entertaining little Rorschach test.

Our two proto-antagonists in Daisies are the short-haired blonde, Marie I (Ivana Karbanova), and pig-tailed brunette, Marie II (Jitka Cerhova). The two spend most of their free time (which seems to be what all of their time is) sunbathing or laying around their bedrooms reveling in ennui or bouncing around with giddy excitement - as teens are often want to do.

When the two young ladies aren't hanging out eating pickles, setting fire to their clothing (indoors, no less), rolling around on the bed with scissors, or stealing corn, they are most likely out on the town causing trouble, relishing in vice and progressively attempting to top their preceding adolescent antics.

While out and about, the girls spend an abundant amount of time in the company of middle-aged to elderly men at train station restaurants (or in one case, a butterfly collection room), so as to finagle meals, cigarettes and booze (or merely attention and affection) out of them - as well as generally causing a spirited distraction wherever else they happen to go.

Although Daisies is widely considered a comedy, there is undoubtedly a darker undercurrent running throughout the film. There is a general sense of existential nihilism permeating much of the film that all culminates in a particularly unsettling sequence involving a descent in a service elevator that ultimately concludes in a decidedly unexpected (and thought provoking) finale.

The experimental, avant-garde nature of Daisies certainly makes this a film for a very particular type of viewer, therefore making it difficult to give a general recommendation to. Everything in Daises - from apples, butterflies and corn, to scissors and sausage - has an interpretive possibility inherit in its very existence within the film. Take a look at the first 4 1/2 minutes of the movie below to get a pretty good sampling of what you'll be committing to should you decide to visit Daisies.

You can purchase Daisies from Facets Multi-Media in the US or on Second Run DVD if you're in the UK.

- Jeremy Vaca

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