Illustration by Charlotte Muth

Charlotte Muth 
18 September 2018

Segment 3: Daisies (1966)

If I so pleased, I could say that Vera Chytilova’s 1966 film Daisies is a criticism of youthful gluttony and malaise.  I could say that the film seeks to empower women, that it strives to comment upon war, industrialization and mid-century Czechoslovakian power structures.  However, the only thing I can say with certainty is that it follows the bizarre adventures of two young women named Marie.

The first time I watched this movie, I was a senior in high school.  My experience was as follows:
  1. I watched approximately half of the film on a whim, alone, on my computer.
  2. I stopped it for some reason or another.
  3. I raved about it to anyone who would listen (i.e. “Have you heard of this Czech film from 1966 called Daisies?  It’s soooo fascinating,” etc.)
  4. I watched the second half about a month later.

At the moment, I can’t place why it took me so long to finish the film.  Perhaps I was busy complaining about how hard AP classes were? But most likely, I wasn’t in the mood.  I didn’t have the gusto to focus on it, so I simply put it off. The film is splintered, so I consumed it in a splintered manner.

Speaking of consumption, watching the movie a second time made me quite certain that Daisies is a film about food.  Minor food moments include crunching on green apples, devouring mini cakes endlessly served by prepared waiters, and using scissors as the sole utensil to eat sausages, bananas and eggs strewn on the Maries’ shared bed.  In the most gluttonous food scene, the pair ravenously ransack a silver-plattered banquet, dancing on the table, smashing bottles and swinging from the chandelier.  Food, in the film, presents a manifestation of decadence that you can practically taste.  While consumption brings forth a stereotypical female sensuality (fruit = fertility), every evocative element is balanced with a sense of subversion.

In a way, Marie and Marie can be analyzed as the predecessors of the modern sugar baby.  At the start of the movie, they decide that the world is so volatile that they might as well “go bad.”  While good girls going bad is no new notion, the Maries (as in everything) do it their own way. For the most part, their “badness” entails going out to luxurious dinners with elderly men, taking said men to the train station, and ditching them by jumping off the moving train in a fit of giggles.  They seek arrangements for their own amusement to experience something in a world where they seem ever uncertain of their existence.

Which brings me to my next point: the Quarter Life Crisis.  No, this is not your father’s crisis (no new cars, memoirs or apocalyptic survival kits).  The Quarter Life Crisis is a youthful calamity – the overwhelming existential doubt that the self and/or humanity has a purpose.  In Daisies, the protagonists experiment with the limits of their five sense in order to assert their existence.

Firstly, the movie is extremely visual.  Yes, my reader, I concede that all movies are intrinsically “visual” – they don’t call them “the pictures” for nothing; nonetheless, Chytilova pushes the boundaries a step further.  From time to time, the hue of the screen lazily shifts from scarlet to purple to black and white. The Maries constantly take off their dresses to put on others.  One of my favorite moments is when the pair kisses each cheek of an old man; at the point of contact, their two polka-dotted dresses switch in a trick of the camera.

Despite the film’s visual nature, one of the most experimental elements is its appeal to the auditory and tactile.  Sound in the film ranges from cacophonous applause spanning for entire scenes to disembodied noises that weave into the fabric of the soundscape – ticking clocks, fervent whispers, typewriter keys, a lover’s phone call.  These noises are simultaneously anxiety-producing and stimulating like an ASMR video (YouTube it, people). Similarly, the tactile elements in the film bring into mind the modern obsession with things that are “oddly satisfying” (@breadfaceblog anyone?).  I can’t explain it, but something about watching a person use metal shears to snip a banana into pieces makes you want to try the same for yourself.

Ultimately, I took great pleasure in revisiting this film.  Unlike the prior two films I discussed (Willy Wonka and High Fidelity), I intentionally rewatched Daisies to write an article about it.  This felt different – more akin to a task, a homework assignment.  Indeed, I might not have gone through with writing this article had I not already made the illustration a month ago.  

It is funny to analyze the reasons behind our actions.  Why do we create? Why do we watch (and rewatch) movies?  Why do we do all the things we do? When you trace your rationale to its root, you may find an utter lack of profundity.  But, somehow there lies solace in such a realization.

To quote Marie 2: “Can’t you smell it . . . how volatile life is.”