(‘Films You Should Know’ is a column where I highlight an amazing film that I believe deserves more attention and awareness)
For my first Films You Should Know article, I wanted to highlight one of the films that always puts a smile on my face when I see it. I am talking about Daisies, a film made in the midst of the Czechoslovakian New Wave film movement during the 1960’s. The film came out in 1966 and was directed by prominent Czech New Wave pioneer, Věra Chytilová. Before I talk about the film itself, I should probably talk briefly about the Czech New Wave since the mood of this era provides the feeling and energy for this production.
For almost the entire decade of the 1960’s, Czechoslovakia filmmakers ushered in a new movement of filmmakers and films that sought to bring us startling visions that were unique in their own way, in their own voice. The state helped support their film industry while also providing the filmmakers freedom of expression, which was hard to come by prior to 1962 due to censorship. Notable films and filmmakers from this era include Miloš Forman (Loves of a Blonde, The Firemen’s Ball); Jiří Menzel (Closely Watched Trains); Jaromil Jireš (The Joke, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders); and Jan Němec (The Party and the Guests). Keep in mind that all of those films deserve their own article and are all worth a look. This movement featured strong narratives that had a loose feel to them, creative set designs, unscripted/improvisational dialogue and darkly absurd humor.
Another trademark of this movement was the use of non-professional actors, which is certainly the case with Daisies. The two stars of this film, Ivana Karbanová and Jitka Cerhová, were both picked by the director based on their personalities. And what a great find they were! Much of what makes this film so entertaining is simply watching these two women traverse around for almost an hour and a half. They are fun, quirky, bubbly, adventurous, and best of all, DESTRUCTIVE. To say that this film has a loose storyline would be an understatement. The “plot” follows two women both named Marie who find that the entire world is spoiled, entitled and corrupt which prompts them to become destructive while also indulging in this same entitlement.
Věra Chytilová also indulges in this exuberant destruction with her role as a writer/director. This film follows no rules when it comes to character, narrative, or filmmaking. At all. Scenes quickly cut from people doing the Charleston dance to cutting off each others’ heads with scissors to psychedelic montages of trains and butterflies. The soundtrack matches this as well with a collage of sounds, musical sequences and other interesting touches that always keep you a little off balance. All of this gives the film it’s best feature, which to me, is the sense of completely unfettered and palpable energy that courses through it’s veins like some sort of celluloid drug. Even during parts that may confuse you, you absolutely cannot take your eyes off of it, like a candy colored hydrogen bomb blowing fictional structures to bits.
And the colors! My, the colors used here are so imaginative and creative that it hurts a little. The film frequently jumps from full color to black and white, to red tints, green tints, and everything in between. Your eyes have plenty to drink in just on the surface alone. Combine that with the amazingly intricate sets and you have a full on feast.
All in all, this is simply one of the most creative films I have ever seen. Every time I watch it, I am amazed and cannot even fathom how they “wrote” this or even put this together. It’s like a fever dream induced by desserts and LSD, where conscious thought is completely unfiltered and moves at the speed of our creative indulgence. I can understand why the government banned it upon release and forbid Věra from working in her home country until 1975: they simply couldn’t comprehend what they were seeing. And I wouldn’t expect them to. This film washes you in shimmering glee, a complete sense of freedom that tends to be lacking in most of our lives. It is escapist-entertainment in the highest form possible.