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.
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