Reviewed: ‘Daisies,’ an exercise in cheeky absurdity

"Daisies" uses a broad stylistic palette and features some outstanding and unusual animation sequences

Daisies, of course, are a colorful and common species of wild flower that bloom in the spring and summer. In Vera Chytilova’s 1966 feature Daisies (Sedmikrasky, screening at Pacific Film Archive at 8:30 pm on Saturday, June 9 as part of a brief, three-film Czech New Wave series), they’re a pair of colorful but decidedly uncommon young women rebelling against the strictures of Communist orthodoxy.

Jitka Cerhova and Ivana Karbanova play Jarmila and Jitka, two teenage dolly birds who delight in defying convention at every opportunity.* Spoiled brats with no self-control, the girls steal money, magazines, and food, play with scissors, set fires, and delight in ignoring ‘no entry’ signs.

Their favorite game, however, involves dating older men, taking advantage of their generosity at expensive restaurants, and ditching them at the nearest train station before delivering the expected sexual quid pro quo’s. At heart, Jarmila and Jitka are American teenagers who consume, consume, consume — which is probably why a Czech parliamentarian strongly objected to the film’s release.

Appealing to the Ministers of the Interior and Agriculture, Assemblyman Pruzinec claimed Daisies‘ scenes of Bunuel-style gluttony were inappropriate at a time when “farmers with great difficulties (were) trying to overcome the problems of our agricultural production”. However, according to Josef Skvorecky’s seminal account of Czech film ‘All the Bright Young Men and Women’, the film was so popular among workers that it was allowed to remain in circulation.

Pruzinec, of course, probably hadn’t actually seen the film he was criticizing – but if he had, he might have been surprisingly pleased by its final scene, in which Jarmila and Jitka realize the error of their ways after sneaking into a banquet hall and engaging in a monumental food fight. Suitably chastened, the girls don pop art pant-suits fashioned from newspapers and try (unsuccessfully) to repair the damage done, while proclaiming that if they’re good and hard-working enough everything will be wonderful. They’re wrong, of course, but it’s a statement that surely would have been music to Comrade Pruzinec’s ears.

Like other Czech features of the period (such as the comedic western Lemonade Joe and Milos Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball), Daisies is an exercise in cheeky absurdity. It uses a broad stylistic palette — switching back and forth between black and white, color, and tinted scenes — and features some outstanding and unusual animation sequences.

In sum, Daisies is a quintessential piece of late ‘60s film making: short on story, long on image, and artistically and socially rather daring. Though there’s absolutely nothing overtly political about it, the film nonetheless challenged the comfortable orthodoxies of post-war Eastern Europe. Though the Prague Spring had yet to arrive, its early shoots could be seen in films such as this.

Movies in bite-sized morsels

If you enjoy watching trailers — or, if you prefer, previews — I strongly recommend you spend the evening of Friday, June 8 at Pacific Film Archive for “Trailer Trash: A Mini-Movie Extravaganza.” Assembled by PFA Video Curator Steve Seid, the program (screening at 8:50 pm) includes an amazing and memorable assortment of coming attractions, including Queen of Outer Space, Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13, and the wild Canadian 3-D thriller The Mask. If you prefer your films in bite-sized two or three minute morsels, you won’t want to miss it.

*Most prints of Daisies refer to the characters as Marie I and Marie II; however, the copy included in the recently released Eclipse DVD set ‘Pearls of the Czech New Wave’ clearly refers to them as Jarmila and Jitka.

Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.  

Check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar to find out what’s going on in Berkeley. It’s a free self-serve calendar, so go ahead and submit your own events.

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