Daisies – aka Sedmikrásky (1966) – dir. Vera Chytilová

Sedmikrásky (or Daisies) is an iconic feminist, absurd film from the Czechoslovak New Wave.  Director Věra Chytilová comes from the grand tradition of Dada — she doesn’t so much break from traditional film convention as she does rip it apart and only pretend to put it back together in order to show how broken it is.  As her characters say at the start of the film,

“When everything is being spoiled… we’ll be spoiled too.”

The Czechoslovak New Wave a brief movement in the 1960’s, when Czechoslovakia was under communist rule.  It came to an end in 1968, when leaders attempted political reforms known as the “Prague Spring,” but the Soviet Union led an invasion to end the liberalization.

The opening credits of Daisies feature gears of some enormous machine, a common symbol target of romantics.  It’s interspersed with aerial footage of war bombings.  A clear signal telling us how we should interpret the rest of the film.

The original Dada used anarchy and destruction of traditional art to protest the power structures of its time; the rotting European aristocracy, the mechanization of labor and war, and the rationalization of politics.  Chytilová simply replaces Buñuel‘s blue blood socialites with communist apparatchiks and features males on the list of oppressors.

The two young women in Daisies appear to be running a call girl scam, of sorts.  Middle-aged men take them out to a fancy dinner, they act as playful children, and when it comes time to take the train home, they jump out of the car and onto the tracks, giggling while the consternated John is shipped away.

It is extraordinarily rare for leading women in films from any time period to not fall in love with a man.   But Chytilová’s two girls laugh at the idea.  A man is completely unnecessary; a point made not too subtly when they take scissors to every phallic symbol they can get their hands on.

Chytilová uses every symbol she can to provoke her fellow Czechoslovaks to rebellion.  Youth, sexuality, music, dancing — even the Tree of Knowledge from Genesis.  Her women smash another one of  Buñuel’s favorite symbols, a fancy dinner, to pieces.

Daisies‘s editing is beautiful.  While Godard is using jump-cuts to jar the audience, Chytilová’s edits feel natural and rhythmic.  It makes visual sense even when it’s not narratively coherent; like a music video’s editing, but without the music.   She puts on a clinic, demonstrating for us every sort of match cut we can think of.  We cut by shape, size, color, eyeline, and as shown below, movement.

(this post at the blog Lolita’s Classics has some excellent examples)

Not surprisingly, the censors found reasons to ban Daisies, “partially on the grounds of food wastage.”

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