Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Daisies/Sedmikrásky (Chytilová. 1966)

"Nobody understands us...."


The hardest part of writing about this Czechoslovakian New Wave masterpiece is deciding where on Earth to start. Daises is a comedy-drama, surrealist, feminist, and ultimately absurd 74 minute experience unlike anything else in the Czech New Wave genre. This could be because it was directed by one of the rare female voices in the movement, Vera Chytilová. 

Born in Czechoslovakia in 1929, Chytilová was raised in a strict Catholic household. Her tightly structured early life has been credited as the reason behind her propensity to ask tough questions regarding touchy subjects such as religion, establishment, sexuality, and politics. All of these subjects are at least mocked in Daises - along with many others. Released in 1966, it was ultimately banned in Chytilová's home nation because the film "supported the wanton". In reality it held a mirror to the absurdity of war (something very apparent in Eastern Europe during the time period) and hedonism, featured strong female leads acting in unbecoming ways, and subtly critiqued communism. 

The overall plot seems surreal due to how radically it changed the perception of women in Czech filmmaking. Two teen ladies, both named Marie, decide that if the rest of the world can be spoiled, they should be afforded the same right. From there they decide that they want to be "bad". This includes dating "sugar daddies", ignoring social standards, and copious amounts of eating. This unladylike behavior made Czech viewers uneasy (which kept Chytilová from working in her native land until 1975), though the overall meaning of the film easily differs from person to person. 

There is something interesting and brave about Chytilová's willingness to make a film about badly behaved women. The opening scene sets the tone as both Marie's sit, bikini-clad, only able to muster up necessary, robotic movements. There was no role for women in Eastern Europe at that time; Marie 1 and Marie 2 are interchangeable, they do not have their own identities and as soon as things escalate to madness their distinction becomes even more difficult. Their spree of destructive pranks culminates as they devour an entire feast meant for Communist Party leaders - which does not end well for them. A humorous tragedy ends the story as soon as both Marie's decide to return to their robotic lives.  

Daisies intentions as a film have seemingly evolved with the world. Upon release it was considered a sharp, witty, yet subtle satire of a woman's role in communist society - a female perspective of oppressive Stalinism. But today it is known less for the political subject matter and more as a fierce feminist romp. From a technical standpoint it is credited for its frantic, 1960s European editing style. This is a film that challenges conventional norms for women and government in a time where women were not accepted into conversations about the government. Daises was considered controversial, irreverent, yet also important upon initial release. This reputation remains in tact almost 50 years later. 


Sedmikrásk: A-