Before writing about this picture, I decided to do a little experiment. I googled famous Czech films in order to see if I have ever watched anything, besides this film of course, from the Czech Republic before. I doubted very much that I had ever seen a film from this country, just because I know so little about the country in general, let alone about the film industry. To my surprise, I found that I had. I had watched both the Fireman’s Ball (a Milos Forman picture before he came to the States to direct Amadeus. It’s about a chaotic and orgy like Fireman’s Ball.) and Alice (a retelling of Lewis Carroll’s famous story told through stop-motion animation by a famous animator, Jan Svankmajer.). These three films have more in common than just their country of origin. Each movie take a surrealistic viewpoint in order to transform straightforward narratives into weird epic journeys. With the Fireman’s Ball, Forman takes an exclusive club and shows how much a mob mentality can threaten basic human rights. With Alice, Svankmajer takes a beloved children’s tale and showcases the dark aspects of the story by making the characters move and “talk” in obscure ways. In Daisies, Vera Chytilova ( the only female Czech director working at the time this film was made), comments on women’s roles in a male dominated society by having them wreak Dada-like havoc on the world around them.
There is no real story for me to summarize for you here. Basically we just follow two girls named Marie slowly do more and more damage to the room they live in, the restaurants they go to with old men and finally to a banquet hall they stumble upon. We watch them eating an epic amount of food, set things on fire, taunt men by putting butterfly display cases over their private areas, get drunk and generally just muck things up.
This film can be a little hard to get used to, but once you do you are free to marvel at the tricks the director and her crew came up with. For instance there are several scenes that switch color schemes, from black and white to a washed out pink to a vibrant green. It reminded me of two-reelers from the silent era that technicians would hand dye. There is also a magnificent scene of the two women in their small room cutting up things with their scissors. It progresses to the point that they cut off each other’s heads and you see them floating across the background with their bodies separated. This devolves into a beautiful cut up montage where the screen becomes layers of dirty black and white paper.
As a practiced film goer, I am trained to see things in a narrative structure. A person talks or performs an action because it is necessary for that person to do or say that in order to drive the plot forward. Thus when a person says something that does nothing for the plot or their character or performs an action that makes no sense for them to do, it sticks out as a flaw in the film. I look for reasons to love or hate movie based on how well the film is able to stick to a coherent plot. This is ingrained in me just like it is ingrained in a Hollywood screenwriter, director, producer, and actor. But when a film comes along that challenges the narrative and plot based format most movies push upon me, I feel like I am a fish out of water. I can’t necessarily tell if the movie I am watching is good or not, because the film is not really concerned with that. In fact I usually can’t tell what the film is concerned with anything beyond making a beautiful and weird image. This is the problem I struggled with when I watched Daisies, the Maya Deren shorts I watched a month ago and the other films I mentioned in the opening paragraph. I have yet to fully find out what makes a great surreal movie and makes a bad one. I struggle to parse out the many aspects of the film and to fit it in a neat little narrative plot for myself. I feel like the director of Daisies knew this is what her audience would try to do. Therefore she makes it super hard for you to hold onto that crutch. She purposely puts words in her protagonists’ mouths that you would never expect them to say, or she abruptly changes the scene so at one moment they in a field and the character turns around only to be in their room again. And even the message behind the film is ever-changing. Is this supposed to be a feminist manifesto, taking patriarchal society to task for excluding them and putting them in small sexual boxes or is it condemning these two women for their havoc wreaking ways? It seems to be doing both and then again neither at the same time. I wrote in my notes that this film was disorienting. I think that one word sums up the film quite nicely.