‘If everything is going bad in this world, so will we,’ Marie says to Marie as they sit against a wall, pulling funny faces. And so their theatrical, surreal, destructive odyssey starts. The girls have dinner with older men, scoffing down copious amounts of cake, getting drunk and annoying strangers in careless and carefree nights of mayhem. Any kind of dialogue they have – with each other or strangers – is filled with phrases like ‘you should’ and ‘you have to’ in abrupt sentences that are never contested verbally but reacted to with a series of seditious actions.
In their apartment, the girls lounge on a bed in an ever-changing selection of underwear. They eat real and paper food, set things on fire and take phone calls from men whose pledges of love and desire are swallowed in a wave of giggles and dance-arounds. Marie and Marie have fun. Yet, a subversive ‘We’ve gone bad, haven’t we?’ persists throughout in conversations that are fragmented and abstracted. In fact, this fragmentation isn’t just visible in the dialogues, but also in the imagery, which wildly switches from scene to scene, from one place to an entirely different setting.
Food is a key part of the movie. Cakes, meats, jellies, fruit – Marie and Marie eat their way from dinner to dinner with the men they tease or in bed by themselves until, finally, they end up in a banquet hall, where the excess and havoc built up throughout the movie culminates in cake fights, fashion shows in drapery and a wild ride on a chandelier, which abruptly ends the scene. In order to be ‘rescued’ from their antics, they have to mend what’s been destroyed: ‘When we’re hard working and good, we’ll be happy. … We are really very happy.’ ‘But we don’t mind.’
The chandelier collapses on top of them, and as we swiftly glance over a bombed cityscape we read: ‘This film is dedicated to those whose sole source of indignation is a messed-up trifle. The end.’
What to make of this anarchistic world that Marie and Marie inhabit? Is it revolutionary? Feminist? Surreal? A bit of all that – and exactly this mixture is what gives Věra Chytilová’s film incredible longevity and room for layers and layers of meanings. Though it’s confusing and random at times, it’s interestingly so with a multifaceted-ness that captivates. The imagery’s sweet, yet sexy and outrageous. Reality is laced with flickering images of bombs, roses and butterflies, and music and sound effects compliment each scene to appeal to our ears as much as to our eyes.
Daisies is a prime example of avant-garde developments in Czech cinema: from its only female contributor of the 1960s when, despite communist rule, restrictions on cultural production were relaxed – up until the Russian invasion in 1968. Chytilová’s film precedes these by two years, yet Daisies caused outrage – no wonder: the two Maries rebel against patriarchic structures, they don’t work, and their main purpose in life, it seems, is to make fun of it.
From a contemporary perspective, there are a number of scenes, not least the cake- fight towards the end of the movie, that appear a bit clichéd, a bit typical for a film that focuses on two teenagers exploring just how far they can go, how outrageous they can be. This, however, is complicated by the excess and exaggeration portrayed containing a threatening element: they’re constantly accompanied by orders from one Marie to the other about what they should and should not do.
Given the communist backdrop against which Daisies was created, and the deeper levels of meaning it contains with this interplay between excess, ‘how things should be’ and the repeated stress that ‘everything has gone bad,’ it’s easy to grasp just how scandalous the film must have seemed to the communist regime. Even from today’s perspective, Daisies contains elements that still push the boundaries between ‘good fun,’ dubious morality and even criminality backwards and forwards in a manner that poses questions about the society we live in. But most of all Daisies is a wonderful example of the boldness of Czech New Wave cinema, visualized through an iridescent surrealism that make it a pleasure to watch – whether you agree with its politics or not.
Daisies is part of the Věra Chytilová festival at the BFI Southbank (1st-17th March 2015), and will screen on 9th & 10th March. The Festival is coorganised by the Czech Centre, London.