Female Filmmaker Friday: Sedmikrásky (Daisies), 1966 (dir. Věra Chytilová)
This is my 8th piece for Female Filmmaker Friday and I thought with the news of Věra Chytilová’s passing this week it would be the perfect time to discuss her seminal work of 1960s feminist film. Chytilová was an important member of the Czech New Wave and basically the only major voice of that movement to stay in her home country despite its harsh reception of subversive art and often being subjected to censorship and having her films banned in her own country. She’s a fascinating figure and deserves much more attention that she often gets.
I first saw Daisies a few years ago when a new print was circulating art house theaters. It was at the Roxie in San Francisco and while waiting for a friend, I saw a giant line of skater bros. I thought it was really weird, but I was also kind of delighted at the thought that maybe all these bros had comes to see a radical feminist film. Turns out, they were there for the premier of a new skater doc, but I still like to pretend we live in a world where countless people of all genders and stereotypes stand in line for important films of this nature.
The film is extremely experimental in nature, starting with two girls both named Marie sitting in bathing suits, talking robotically to the camera. The girls decide that the world is shit and there’s nothing they can do about it, so they’re going to cause as much mischief as they possibly can.
There’s a scene reminiscent of the Adam and Eve moment in Genesis, wherein the two girls eat from the Tree of Knowledge, they fall and then the film cuts immediately to them landing on their bed in their shared apartment. I like the idea of recasting Adam and Eve as a couple of friends, that the original relationships were platonic, not romantic.
There’s a lot of really stellar editing techniques in the film. During a scene wherein both the girls are consuming images from magazines, clipping them (their room is covered; much like my room), one of the Maries starts snipping at the other and eventually both girls are nothing but floating heads. It’s surreal and fascinating and has a lot to say about the way we passively consume images of beauty and culture that are pre-edited for us. This film was made when Communism was still prevalent and Chytilová uses cinema to critique both it and allure of the West’s pop culture obsession.
I love the moments set in the girls’ apartment because I think it’s an accurate depiction, though heightened, of what it’s like to be a young girl at home. They sleep, they play with make up, they eat, they fight, they gossip, they read – almost all of which they do in bed. Most people who have been young and lived in an apartment for the first time, have probably lived in a studio and can relate to one-room living. I also like that it shows both the girls’ friendship, but also the kind of fighting that comes about when you live with a friend.
There’s a lot of juxtaposition between living things and dark thoughts about death and mortality. Flowers – often a symbolic of womanhood and youth – show up throughout the film. The girls where flowers in their hair, their apartment is filled with flowers, the title of the film even refers to a short-lived, simple and sweet flower. Women are more complicated than are often depicted and I think by setting this film around vapid, nihilistic girls, Chytilová is subverting the fetishism of young girls, of being “in bloom,” of youth, of purity, of all things hoisted on women without their consent.
When not in their bed, the girls spend their time getting older “sugar daddies” to take them to lunch. They knowing play the part of the “bimbo” in order to flatter the men and get as much from them while spending the least amount of time from them. They get clothes and they get extravagant meals. More commentary on both consumerism, but also the fetishism of food when it is denied you on a daily basis.
At one point one of the Maries goes home with a man who collects butterflies. Marie then essentially becomes part of his collection for a brief time. Again, we get commentary of youth, on the fleeting nature of mortality, on man’s desire to hold on to life after it’s gone. And, with Marie becoming part of his collection, we also get commentary on the desire of men to collect and display women – especially young women – as an object in their life, not a subjective person whose life is their own.
Finally, the girls end up in a rundown apartment complex that on inside has been set for a large feast – presumably for Communist leaders. The two girls eat, eat, eat and then destroy everything in a scene that is as joyous as it is horrendous.
The girls then decide that what they did was wrong and that they should go back and clean up their mess, but before they can they are crushed by a giant chandelier. Does this mean that Chytilová agrees with the girls’ decision to be bad because nothing comes from being good but death? That evil (aka pleasure) is the only way to really live because death will come to us all? Is the chandelier Communism or Consumerism? Is it both? Is it neither? Is it just life itself? That’s the great thing about art; it’s everything and it’s nothing at the same time.