Surrealist film “Daisies” confuses and entertains

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Brunette Marie revels in a cake fight.

When two young women realize that the world is terrible, they decide that they will behave basely. They spend their time tricking older men into buying them dinner, eating extravagant meals, and having fun. Vera Chytilová’s Daisies (1966) takes a colorful dive into comedic Surrealism while exploring both anarchic and nihilistic ideas. (RMM: 4/5)

Review by FF2 Associate Roza M. Melkumyan

A staple film of the Czechoslovak New Wave of the 1960s, Vera Chytilová’s Daisies (1966) (in Czech, Sedmikrásky) is a colorful surrealist adventure which breathes a sort of dark and absurd humor into its dialogue and cinematic landscape. In its opening scene, two young women named “Marie” – one blonde (Ivana Karbanová) and one brunette (Jitka Cerhová) – sit in a box in their bathing suits, bored. They decide that since the world “has gone bad,” they will do the same because “it doesn’t matter” anyway. This line will repeat throughout the film as the girls get themselves into all sorts of mischief. 

Their decision made, the girls are suddenly in a meadow with a solitary apple tree. Then their location changes to their apartment bedroom, where the two will randomly set streamers on fire, cut up sausages and eggs into little pieces, and roll each other up in the blankets. In one particularly funny scene, blonde Marie – who has tied her knees together with a green ribbon – hops over to the ringing telephone and answers with “Rehabilitation center! Die! Die! Die!”; the same time, brunette Marie chomps down on a pickle.

The Maries are bored.

These surrealist scenes are interspersed with dinners at expensive restaurants with old, rich men. The two spend their dates gorging on food; they stuff their mouths with cakes and chicken and wash it down with bottles of wine. When they’ve had their fill, they send each man away on the train while pretending to be sad for his departure. In one scene, a young man serenades blonde Marie with a piano tune. Naked, she is surrounded by framed taxidermy butterflies and uses their cases to cover her private areas while gazing coquettishly into the man’s eyes. Later, when he calls the apartment telephone and declares his love for her, brunette Marie asks what his name is. She replies, “you know, I have no idea.”

Throughout the film, three clear motifs appear: apples and related language, food or the search for food, and the proclamation that “it doesn’t matter.” Apples appear in several scenes. Either they are part of the background, or a Marie is eating one. Several times, the Maries mention that they’ve either “gone bad” or that the world “is going bad”; this phrase is also often used to describe fruits – like apples – that have become rotten.

The Maries’ principal motivation throughout the film is their own hunger. They trick men into buying them food. When blonde Marie’s young suitor expresses his love to her, she can only seem to ask if he’s got any food. During the film’s final twenty minutes, the girls find themselves in a banquet hall where a feast is displayed. Soon they’re eating everything in sight, throwing cake at each other, and using the long table as a catwalk. At the time of the film’s release, Czechoslovakia was experiencing a food shortage. This is likely one of the main reasons that the government banned the screening of Daisies in theaters at the time. 

According to the Maries, nothing matters. Whenever one of them begins to care – like when blonde Marie starts to feel remorse over stealing money – the other reiterates this sentiment, and the two devolve back into a disinterested chaos. Such a mentality can be rather dangerous as it facilitates disinterest in others’ feelings and the repercussions of one’s actions. This state of being creates a sort of liberation, albeit harmful, as they can literally do whatever they want whenever they want.

Either way, the experimental nature of the film ensures a unique viewing experience. Once you understand that this is not at all a conventional film, you can simply enjoy its color and fun. 

© Roza M. Melkumyan (10/2/20) FF2 Media

The Maries hop up and down on either side of an apple tree.

Featured Photo: Blonde Marie gives her young lover a coquettish look. 

Photo Credits: Pavel Dias

Q: Does Daisies pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?  

Yes.

Marie and Marie discuss whether they exist or not, among other things. 

Tags: Daisies, FF2 Media, Roza Melkumyan, TCM, Turner Classic Movies, Vera Chytilová, WomenMakeFilm

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As a member of the FF2 Media team, Roza writes features and reviews and coaches other associates and interns. She joined the team as an intern herself during her third year of study at New York University. There she individualized her major and studied narrative through a cultural lens and in the mediums of literature, theatre, and film. At school, Roza studied abroad in Florence and London, worked as a Resident Assistant, and workshopped a play she wrote and co-directed. Since graduating, she spent six months in Spain teaching English and practicing her Spanish. Most recently, she spent a year in Armenia teaching university English as a Fulbright scholar. Her love of film has only grown over the years, and she is dedicated to providing the space necessary for female filmmakers to prosper.
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