Sunday, 3 February 2019
Directed by Vera Chytilová
Second Run Blu Ray Zone B
Daisies is another film which I’d not heard of before seeing it drifting by with high praise on my Twitter feed, advertising the new Blu Ray transfer released over here in the UK by Second Run. Of course, the terms Czechoslovakia and surrealism in such close juxtaposition put me in mind of those abstract, five minute Czechoslovakia cartoon fillers that used to get shown on BBC television in the 1960s and 1970s and, to be fair, there is a certain amount of just that kind of animated experimentation within this movie. The fact that it had been banned on release in it’s home country for, and I quote, ‘depicting the wanton’ and the director forbidden to work again for six years only added fuel to the fire of me wanting to see this excessive amount of ‘wanton’ and I was grateful, therefore, to receive a copy of this on the occasion of my birthday this year.
The film proceeds with an almost sinister opening credits sequence depicting some kind of mechanical contrivance of three big cogs which are intercut to genuine war footage. To describe the plot of the film is, in some ways, redundant due to the fact that it doesn’t really have one but once the credits are done with the audience is treated to a shot of the two main protagonists, both called Marie and played by Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová, sitting side by side in crisp, black and white photography. Perhaps my first few minutes of the film as I experienced them in synopsis can give you a flavour of what sitting down to watch Daisies is like...
As the two girls decide between them that the world has gone bad and, therefore, they can be bad too, their movements are deliberately wooden and jerky, accompanied by the sound of creaking wood on the soundtrack. Then, when one of the Marias slaps the other, she is propelled by the magic of editing out of that scene to wake up in a field of daisies as the screen explodes into full colour (a tactic redeployed again later by the director as she cuts on one of the girls tugging the others leg and they both end up in a different sequence at the end of the tug). Both girls jump up and down and do some kind of joyful and somewhat hypnotic bunny dance to the upbeat soundtrack.
And there you have the basic attitude of the film. It’s very much, in my opinion, embracing the sixties spirit of the young rebelling against the older generation and their various wars... and had somewhat prophetic timing, in a way, given the tensions of the ‘Prague Spring’ in 1968 (some of the events of which were depicted in the much praised, an deservedly so, film of Milan Kundera’s book The Unbearable Lightness Of Being).
Now, it’s tempting to throw interpretation on some of the scenes here, which consist of the two Maries going around exploiting older men for big meals, abandoning them and then contemplating this or that idea in surrealistic and often non-sequitur sequences which, in general, depict a joyfully chaotic nature reminiscent of something you would have seen depicted in a Marx Brothers movie 30 years before. Indeed, I would be very much surprised if the scene where one Marie is cutting up food with a pair of scissors was not directly influenced by certain Harpo Marx routines. That being said, interpretations which you bring yourself to a film can be especially valid, I think, when the structure is rendered somewhat deliberately elliptical in intent. So, my take on the opening would be the act of rebellion to expected society norms depicted as puppets freeing themselves from their wooden appearance and bursting forth into the real world.
And there’s a lot going on visually with this movie, it has to be said. There are a lot of colour changes, sometimes even within the same shot. I’d say about two fifths of the film was shot in full colour, two fifths in black and white and the remaining fifth set in a variety of colour tinted black and white frames which change seemingly randomly. So you have a green tinted screen which cuts away and then back and then suddenly everything is tinted yellow for no apparent reason. This also, however, occasionally helps out with the way the visual syntax is used in certain scenes.... for instance, a dinner montage where the tints are continually changing on a cut every few seconds helps the director convey a sense of passing time and thus serves a very useful purpose. Other times, those stock treatments may even change on the rhythm of a ticking clock. In one shot of one Marie drinking wine and then crossing her eyes, the colour changes smoothly to another tint as she does so with no cut.
Similarly, another dinner sequence (the girls seem to be obsessed with food for pretty much the whole course of the film) has a moment where a shot zooms out in stages, triggered by words spoken from one of the characters. And the film is riddled with this kind of experimental approach to the visual boundaries throughout, in an almost constant bombardment on the audiences, hijacking the pre-conditioned way of decoding images placed in a sequence before them. For instance, another scene where the girls go scissor crazy and cut off each other limbs and head (all still quite active body parts such as a floating head which looks around and sticks out her tongue) lead into the cinematic frame itself being cut into constantly moving tiny pieces. Of course, in the very next sequence, both girls are back to normal and off on their next escapade.
Some of it is a challenge visually but in terms of the way the mind receives the information... following the main protagonists who are really beautifully played by Cerhová and Karbanová, with the charming Barbara Windsor-esque giggle of one of the characters softening the severity of some of their blase and callous attitudes to every other living creature they come in contact with (the youth of today, eh?)... is all very positive and makes for a fun watch. It’s also very difficult to decode sometimes but then, that’s what makes it so fun... Is the journey in the industrial dumb waiter a metaphorical ascent to heaven as the girls are delivered to a banquet where more chaos ensues or should we just take it at face value? Indeed, should we even take the girls at face value when they are bored and annoyed by the lack of attention they are receiving? When one of the Marias takes the other back to the aftermath of an earlier scene to prove a point she says to the other Maria... ‘There you are! We do exist.” Frankly, I’m not so sure but I was having too much fun by this point to care whether the central protagonists were real characters or only shadows of the puppet people they at first appeared to be.
The use of music is quite good in some places and the needle drop stuff is very well chosen throughout... especially the placement of Siegfried's Funeral March from Gotterdämmerung by Richard Wagner, a piece of music I recognised from its inclusion in Excalibur (reviewed by me here)... used here to create a sinister overtone to upcoming events where it’s not necessarily visually loaded as projecting that particular ambience. I also loved the musical accompaniment to a couple of dancers in my favourite scene where they are upstaged by the increasingly drunken girls whose behaviour at this point leaves a lot to be desired.
And that’s my take on Daisies... a film I’d not heard of until a few months ago but definitely one I’d recommend to fans of movies depicting a celebration of the attitudes of the emerging youth of the period. There’s rarely a dull moment and the pace of the piece is such that it rockets... well, if not forward then certainly sideways... at a furious pace. Definitely one to watch if you are a lover of cinema and you like films like, say, Head starring The Monkees or, indeed, Duck Soup. A definite treat and much thanks to Second Run for releasing this gem.