film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Daisies (1966)

Seeing this did mean skipping ahead in the list a bit, but a local indie theater is screening a restored print of this Czech New Wave film, one I was having a little trouble tracking down. As a bonus, I also got to hear audience reactions – particularly those from a group of friends who sat behind me and thoroughly enjoyed it. One of them gave an especially memorable review immediately after: “That was like, ‘Intrusive Thoughts: The Movie’!”

I personally would have titled it “Id”, for our two leads – Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová, non-actors both – are a pair of single women who are out to treat the world as one big cocktail party, just for them. They decide in their first scene that since the world is “spoiled”, with everyone fighting to get what they want, they will be “spoiled” as well.

From then on, the film is a freewheeling surrealist romp as the pair schmooze older men for dinner dates, get thoroughly hammered in a night club, take bubble baths in milk pilfered from neighbors, gorge on corn swiped from a farmer’s garden, and crash a banquet hall set up for a grand meal which they destroy by starting a food fight and swinging on the chandelier.

I know that this makes them sound like utter brats. But somehow the pair comes across as plucky and endearing as opposed to entitled; the men who woo them are only interested in their looks and expect them to “return their favors”, so they put on a wide-eyed little-girl act, dial the flirtiness up to eleven, let their marks shower food on them, and then sneak away at the last minute, laughing at the mens’ folly. Hey, it’s not their problem if some guys think any woman who smiles at them will automatically put out.

The visuals are also full of anarchic whimsy. In one scene, one of the girls is being wooed by a butterfly collector; she is doing a strip tease for him, and at one point grabs a display case off his wall, shielding her breasts with two strategically-placed butterflies.

Even more memorable is a scene where the butterfly collector calls to pledge his love while the pair are having breakfast; instead of hanging up or taking him seriously, they set down the phone and let him speak, giggling at his declarations as they gorge themselves on sausage, bananas, and hardboiled eggs, cutting each into pieces with a pair of shears just to amp up the Freudian metaphor.

Those same shears come into play again during an even more surreal scene where the pair cut each other into bits during a rare disagreement. And some of the visuals aren’t really “about” the film at all – scenes randomly jump from one to the next, the footage flips from color to black-and-white at random – sometimes mid-scene – and some scenes are shot with colored filters or are interspersed with clips of collages. It all gives the impression of the girls’ perspective of the world being a chaotic but generous place, where they’re free to follow whatever whim they choose and abandon it when it gets too boring.

At the time it was released, Czechoslovakia was suffering from food shortages, and the food fight scenes triggered a domestic ban over “irresponsible food wastage”. Director Vera Chytilova shrugged and agreed – but in later prints added a title card before the closing credits dedicating the film to “those who only get upset over a stomped-upon bed of lettuce.”

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