Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sedmikrásky (Daisies) (1966)

I can't recall how I heard about this film, but the opportunity to try out a new (to me) foreign movement is something I rarely avoid, so it was with excitement and uncertain expectations that I plopped down to watch Daisies, a landmark Czechoslovak New Wave film from writer/director Vera Chytilová. The loose story follows Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová), two young women who, upon realizing that the world is inherently bad, decide to live in the worst way possible.

They scam older men for free dinners, steal whatever they can, drunkenly harass strangers, and generally sink further and further into degeneracy. Along the way they question the nature of their own existence and their relationship to one another. Everything is shown in a whirl of shifting color, animation, time-lapse photography, impressive set pieces, and quick, changeable shots. It is uncategorizably great.

It's strange, irreverent, mutable, ambiguous, and incredibly hard to describe, but wow I loved this film. From beginning to end Daisies is informed by a playful, surrealistic spirit with a slight feminist edge, resulting in a film that's pure weird fun. The Marie's are quick to philosophize but quicker to play a prank, amusing themselves with silly walks and a handy pair of scissors. The actresses themselves infuse the characters with a mischievous air only partly contained under an innocent facade, with Marie I persistently keeping her hair in girlish pigtails and Marie II sporting an ever-present crown of flowers to "look like a virgin". I loved their chemistry and matching outfits, reveling in their symbiotic friendship peppered with bouts of vicious antagonism.

The cinematography is breathtaking: The colors change erratically while sporadic shots of flowers and food pop in and out of conversational scenes. A wealth of elaborate and dreamlike set pieces are arranged within the girls' bedroom, lending a dash of surreal glamor to their delinquent lifestyle. There are flashes of violence twisted into fascinating visual effects through split-screen and time-lapse techniques. The plot may be loose and vague, but the wildly imaginative, ever-shifting shooting style perfectly suits the film's absurd atmosphere, all capped off by an extremely memorable final shot.

With its devious protagonists and seeming distrust of authority I'm impressed Daisies was made under a Soviet government (with state funding). Admittedly I don't know much about Czech culture during the Soviet regime, and it seems films like this became popular in the 60's as filmmakers endeavored to speak out against the government with a more oblique approach. I'll certainly be looking to other films from the period and from Ms Chytilová specifically. Exciting times lay ahead, my friends.


Further Reading:
House of Self-Indulgence review


  1. I have to watch this, someone left a comment on one of my posts ( because there was a recreation of that first pic you used. Interesting how such a small movie can make such an impact!

  2. Thx for the review - this is one of those films that I've been meaning to hunt down, as its often mentioned in the same breath as Valerie's Week of Wonders - a film that I was completely astounded by, and my first and only experience of the so-called Czech New Wave. (My review totally doesn't do the film justice, but check it out to get an idea ...

    Seems like the Czech New Wave may be one of those unlikely hidden gems that its so much fun discovering!

  3. I remember this movie as the one that weirded out my roommate while I was watching it for a class last semester.

    Czech movies always intrique me for some reason. Especially after I saw "Daisies". I loved their cinematography, but also how the actresses were usually running around on screen crazily half of the time.

  4. Wicked Halo: That editorial is beautiful! The shot of the model holding a butterfly display case in front of her chest is also a reference to the film.

    Twisted Flicks: You should definitely get a hold of Daisies if you can! I'm interested in checking out Valerie and Her Week of Wonders next, so I'm off to read your review right now!

    Allison: Haha it weirded out my boyfriend too when he came home and I was in the middle of it. Until now the only Czech films I'd seen were Jan Svankmajer's, but now I intend to see more from the New Wave.

  5. If you loved Daisies and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders imagine what will happen when you get to the great films! Unfortunately the Czechs seem to be ignoring their films, but the Slovaks released a healthy dose of their output. You'll need all the equipment to play R2 PAL DVDs (you can get it for, like, $40 or so), but they are available if you're interested. 'The Miraculous Virgin', 'Birds, Orphans, and Fools', and 'Celebration in the Botanical Garden' are my favorites from that collection. If not that, then The Cremator is on DVD in America, although perhaps its extremely black comedy is not as reminiscent of those other two films mentioned. The Czechoslovak filmmakers were remarkably consistent, though, I will say that. Even their less daring filmmakers managed to say something interesting - and the Oscar nominations came flowing in. Wonderful place and time, ruined by the Soviet tanks.

  6. Fascinating film which got Chytilova banned from film making for about six years after. Whilst its a great coming of age story (perhaps in a rebel without a cause way), what stands out is that these girls were never really THAT bad. If anything, the shameless old goats who were looking to score because they paid for a meal were much worse.