Film Vault: 'Daisies' (1966)

BY JACK PORTER
Daily Arts Writer
Published September 29, 2009

Vera Chytilová’s “Sedmikrásky” (“Daisies”) is a divisive film. According to Czech film historian Peter Hames, female audiences saw humor in “Daisies” where men did not. Women also more closely identified with its heroines, while men were more likely to see them as petulant brats. Audiences may be less prejudiced now, but feminism is still a contentious topic. Either way, “Daisies” is a delicious conversation starter.

“Daisies” is often lumped into the dubious category of the “Czech New Wave,” a period during the ’60s which saw the emergence of talents like Miloš Forman and Jan Němec. These directors drew from practices like surrealism, cinéma vérité and neo-realism. But even compared to its contemporaries, “Daisies” is totally iconoclastic; it’s a feminist critique wrapped in a beautiful psychedelic package.

The film has something like a story, but it’s more a series of thematically connected skits than a logical narrative piece. In summary, the two protagonists, Marie I and Marie II (a.k.a “the blonde” and “the brunette,” among other names) are two mischievous teenage girls who generally wreak havoc, scamming old men out of their riches on lavish dinner dates, upstaging cabaret performances and even setting fires. While disrupting social order, they also engage in nonsensical dialogue on the meaning of life.

In the same way that the events in “Daisies” are illustrative and allegorical, its characters are like puppets that exist to both enact and deconstruct traditional ideas about women. To heighten this impression of unreality, the director instructed the actresses (who were models by trade) to speak every line in a silly, coquettish way. This parody of feminine archetypes further calls attention to the film’s playful, rebellious spirit.

Though its subtext is heady, the film is a blast to watch. Despite the actors’ lack of experience, their physical comedy is spot-on. To match the actors’ pratfalls, the film is edited to include deliberate continuity “errors,” giving the impression that people and objects can magically transform and teleport from one place to another. In context, these well-timed edits create jokes in film form and add to the overall sense of chaos. But those elements only constitute a small part of the film’s outrageous visual style.

“Daisies,” on the most basic sensory level, is an explosion of color. This is partially achieved by the heroines' costumes and the film's settings, which constantly change. Color filters add to the atmosphere of spontaneity. Tellingly, the heroines’ bedroom looks like an art installation, with scribbled patterns, magazine clippings of glamorous women and drawings of flowers brought together in a collage that covers the walls. The room acts as a microcosm of the film in its deconstruction of feminine images. Further, this deconstructive theme is explored in striking animation sequences where collages of leaves, roses and butterflies seem to dance in front of the screen. The blazing, shimmering, rainbow-tinted journey through a train tunnel is a visual high point.

Most art films seem to be only entertaining to an elite group trained in how to “read” them. Against the odds, “Daisies” offers enjoyment on multiple levels. It’s frequently funny. It’s gorgeous to watch. It has showy technique for film buffs and is open to delirious interpretation games by film scholars. It also gets people talking as they struggle to identify (or not) with the blonde and the brunette. For those looking for a film that is both non-traditional and non-boring, look no further.