music friday: middle class streaming bandwidth
what i watched last week

film fatales #3: daisies (vera chytilová, 1966)

(Suggested by The Film Fatales)

Here’s something I know next to nothing about: the Czech New Waves of the 1960s. I recognize some of the names ... Miloš Forman (who later directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus), Ivan Passer (Cutter’s Way), Jiří Menzel ... and I’ve seen some of the movies (the Oscar-winning Closely Watched Trains). or at least recognize the titles. And I assume pretty much every country had its New Wave. But I stumbled onto Daisies, and thus stumbled onto one of the key films in the Czech New Wave. (The impetus for watching is that Criterion was featuring movies from 1966 on Hulu.) Daisies existed at the time just prior to the Prague Spring ... it came out a bit more than a year before Alexander Dubček took power. Immediately on its released, it was famously banned in Czechoslovakia for “depicting the wanton”. That may have warranted a ban according to the authorities ... the truth is, they described the film quite accurately. It does indeed depict the wanton.

Daisies is a delightful movie, as if someone dropped the Broad City women into the middle of a film revolution 50 years ago in Europe. Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová play two teenage girls who see emptiness in the world around them and resolve to fill their own lives with pretty much anything they want. They scam a series of sugar daddies, cadging expensive meals, they burst into a dance hall and wreak havoc. Most famously, they discover catered dinner before the guests have arrived, and proceed to randomly eat until they fall into a food fight. It sounds frivolous, but in the context of mid-60s Czechoslovakia, it’s a breath of fresh air. Cerhová and Karbanová perfectly express youthful abandon ... that the two were amateurs at the time is remarkable, and suggests Chytilová not only had an excellent eye for budding talent but also knew how to extract just what was needed from the actresses.

In a later interview, Cerhová said:

I think that Vera also wanted to explore the idea of destruction. So she showed these two young women who thought: if the whole world is so depraved, why not do the same thing, why not grant ourselves the same freedom to provoke, to go further and further? You can’t imagine how these scenes, where we threw down the table and the platters of a sumptuous banquet, were shocking in a country where people waited on line for hours in front of grocery stores.

The style of Daisies is, quite properly, abundantly excessive. Chytilová will do anything and everything, breaking rules left and right (pun not intended, but there it is). The sound editing is particularly impressive. The film is mostly lacking in narrative thrust, and that’s for the best ... often, experimental films will fart around with narrative, leaving an inscrutable mess, but Chytilová steamrollers over the idea of narrative, just presenting a collage of scenes of the two girls being wanton.

I had so much fun watching this movie. It reminded me of the first time I saw Breathless ... I loved that movie so much, I sat through it a second time right away. I want to say Daisies is unforgettable, but then I looked it up on the IMDB, and found something interesting. Apparently, I’d seen it before and given it a 9/10. I’ve never written about it until now, and I certainly don’t remember seeing it. So I guess it isn’t unforgettable. I’ll settle for saying it’s wonderful. As for a rating, who am I to argue with myself? 9/10. #407 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time.


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