Věra Chytilová’s Daisies [Sedmikrásky, 1966] is undoubtedly one of the most unique films we’ve covered on The Cinessential. A series of comic vignettes connected by smash cuts and cinematic tricks—as when a character falls out of frame and lands in another space—it actively defies rationality, at least as we typically understand what it means for a film to be organized “rationally.” The world, it tells us with the colorfully re-tinted stock footage of WWII battles that opens the film, is completely irrational; why should we expect people [or films] to pretend to a sanity the world around us doesn’t share?
This critique of a world gone mad is directed explicitly at the patriarchy. Daisies follows two young Czech women [who cycle through a number of names throughout the film] as they play pranks on gullible, bourgeois men in Prague, but the film isn’t interested in coherent characters or a consistent storyworld. We’re not following them on a journey with a beginning, middle, and end, watching them develop as characters. The characters, like the film, are made of cuts and splices, fleeting images taped together that have only the semblance of order. The film, to paraphrase Tristan Tzara, resembles them.
You can see the influence of Dadaism, the rebellious, anti-rational, anti-art art movement Tzara helped found, as well as Dada’s more zealous offspring, surrealism. Witness the time the women while away some time by slicing phallic foods into bits and giggling, before cutting each other into bits with the same pair of scissors. Note the jarring interposition of hundreds of single frames of flower arrangements into ongoing scenes, a visually assaulting experimental film technique that dates back to Man Ray. Marvel at the beautiful, cinematic effects of black-and-white footage taken from the caboose of a train, tinted alternating colors that flash by in a temporal rainbow.
As an experimental film, Daisies has a long and distinct lineage in European and American filmmaking. As a feminist film, too, it is a justly canonized milestone. Just as important as these two histories/herstories, however, is the context of 1960s Czechoslovakia. The film was made at the beginning of the Czech New Wave, a cinematic movement from the small country with outsized influence. Some of its major figures [e.g., Milos Forman] would eventually make their way to Hollywood, an ambition Chytilová, who died in 2014, did not seem to share.
The film also emerged just two years before the so-called Prague Spring, a loosening of political and cultural restrictions enabled by a series of reforms passed by the Czech government in defiance of the Russian Politburo. It would only be ended when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague in 1968. Daisies, released the year before the Prague Spring, didn’t get to benefit from its brief glimpse of a liberal society—the film was banned by the censors upon its release—but its rambunctious, rebellious spirit seems the manifestation of a population eager to divert from the [patriarchal] official line.
So: feminism, art history, film history, and social history. What’s missing from this piecemeal introduction to Daisies is perhaps the film’s most important component: it is fun. It indulges the mischievousness of its central characters, who respect neither the pompous, lecherous men of Prague nor the very film they’re in. With its conspiratorial shenanigans, cinematic tricks, and acid critique, Daisies wins us over to the side of irreverence.