★★★★ out of 5
Plays Nov. 24 to 30 at Cinematheque.
Driven first by the heart and second by the stomach, Daisies (1966) is a film that’s serious about being unserious.
The new 4K restoration of Věra Chytilová’s classic Czechoslovak new-wave film chronicles two teenage girls, Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová), who embark on a series of pranks, scams and (mis)adventures in girlhood.
Daisies ticks off at least three of the seven deadly sins, with gluttony being the most apparent of the bunch. The Maries keep busy by scamming perverted middle-aged men at fine-dining establishments, frolicking in thigh-high wildflower fields and eating despicably large pickles straight from the jar.
It’s a film that makes you hungry until it doesn’t.
Following its original release, Daisies stirred up a string of controversies, including a nationwide ban by Czechoslovak authorities due to depictions of excessive food waste. Until 1975, Chytilová was prohibited from filming in her homeland. More than a film about girlish shenanigans, Daisies confronts the hierarchies and orders of its era with a mouthful of chocolate cake. It critiques patriarchy, politics and prudishness.
To watch Daisies is to work through a series of antagonisms between one’s desires and one’s obligations. It is both infuriating and cathartic to watch a pair of stilettos crush a 10-foot-long dining table of hor d’oeuvres. Yet, to shame the Maries through the screen is to miss the point entirely. If you’re mad, you’re the real fool.
It’s an ode to the shamelessly silly girls of the world.
Regardless of its political efficacy, Daisies remains one of the most visually thrilling films of all time. It’s one hour and 16 minutes of jump cuts from black and white to deep violet, stop-motion clips of a hundred framed butterflies and costume designs that speak to one’s inner seven-year-old.
At times, the gluttony of Daisies is so overwhelming that it inches toward nihilism. The Maries’ boundless freedom, while clearly utopian, feels hyper-individualistic and empty. At this point, it’s questionable whether it’s a feminist film or merely a feminine film. But while the viewer may feel a psychosomatic stomach ache, the Maries never feel a single pang. To succumb to guilt is to give into the forces that repress you.
All in all, the feminine catharsis felt while watching Daisies might be similar to the masculine (homoerotic?) pleasures of a Jackass film – albeit significantly less painful. There’s a release in watching two brash characters pursue their intestinal cravings and childlike fantasies to the fullest extent. There’s both pleasure and disgust in admiring the scamming, the bingeing and the trashing that the Maries execute with merciless pride.
In a strange coincidence, Chytilová dedicates the film to “those who get upset only over a stomped-upon bed of lettuce.” Amid a mysterious, nationwide lettuce shortage in November 2022, it’s uniquely on the nose.
Don’t watch Daisies on an empty stomach. Or do.
Published in Volume 77, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 17, 2022)