The first time I saw Věra Chytilová’s Daisies was on a double bill with Godard’s Weekend at the New Beverly in Los Angeles, circa 2014. I went in blind and was rewarded with 76 minutes of anarchistic joy. Earlier this week I happened upon yet another screening of Daisies, this time a 4K restoration at the Nuart. It’s an earthquake, Daisies. Every now and then it comes from seemingly nowhere, and all I can do is observe in puzzled awe.
As such, a conventional review is mostly pointless, perhaps even harmful to the viewing experience. In short, go watch it! It’s good!
The film follows two young women, Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová). One claims they’re sisters, but I wouldn’t take this at face value. When we meet Marie I and II, they’re sitting side-by-side in front of unadorned wooden paneling, their joints creaking like those of wooden marionettes as they make stiff, robotic gestures. Since the world has gone bad, they declare, they’ll go bad along with it. Low stakes chaos ensues. Marie I goes on boring dates with middle aged bureaucrats. Marie II, a Bugs Bunny in human form, materializes to rescue Marie I and the two shuffle the hapless drones onto a departing train to somewhere (“the next stop,” a helpful guard specifies).
What works about Daisies is how effortlessly Chytilová uses a variety of visual and editing techniques to keep the viewer off balance. Sometimes it’s simple things like alternating between color, black and white, and monochromatic tinted photography, all within the same scene and composition. Other sequences are more technically elaborate (though equally absurd), as when the Maries playfully dismember each other like paper dolls, culminating with the entire scene atomized into stop motion geographic shapes. At one point we see the train ride of a failed date, in the form of a sped up, psychedelic point-of-view shot from the train’s perspective (two years before 2001: A Space Odyssey, to boot).
Daisies was generally well received in its native Czechoslovakia, save the 21 deputies of the National Assembly, who, according to Peter Hames in the liner notes accompanying the Second Run Blu Ray release, objected to the depiction of copious food waste “at a time when farmers were struggling ‘to overcome the problems of our agricultural production.’” Food plays a major role in the film, the primary vehicle through which the Marie I and II sow whimsical terror. In what’s arguably the film’s least subtle sequence, the two lovingly slice apart various phallic foods while the disembodied voice of a hopelessly smitten artist-type begs for attention over the phone. The film eventually climaxes with the Maries demolishing a banquet.
Initially banned, it eventually saw distribution thanks to a test screening for workers (Hames notes again), though Daisies has yet to find much of an audience in the States. Its current limited theatrical run will be followed by induction into the Criterion Collection in November (it had previously been available in Criterion’s Eclipse series, sans bells and whistles).
Runtime: 76 minutes
MPA Rating: No rating
Streaming: HBO Max, The Criterion Channel