Daisies (Sedmikrasky) Vera Chytilova (Czech; 1966) Jitka Cerhova; Ivana Karbonova
viewed Star and Shadow Cinema, 24 Oct 2021; ticket: £7
The woman point
Vera Chytilova’s ‘Daisies’ is film as a philosophical proposition. A feminist diatribe delivered with the stylistic logic that only film, with its intercut collision of images and worlds, its disassociations, its discontinuities, its multiplication of series, could assemble as a coherent assault on patriarchy as a hierarchy of destruction violence and sexual exploitation. In contrast to the polemic in Godard films such as Tout va Bien or La Chinoise, Chytilova doesn’t do direct didacticism. She exploits collisions of settings script and gesture to create a satire that is savage and unwavering in purpose. Daisies was immediately banned in Czechoslovakia and remained forbidden until 1990. The Communist Party seeing its anarcho-feminism as an critical attack on the society over which it presided.
Chytilova’s movie brings together her knowledge and understanding of Czech radicalism. Through image and scenario ‘Daisies’ draws on the national tradition of stop motion animation, the satire of Hasek’s Good Soldier Schweik, and also Czech/German critical writing of the 1920’s and ‘30’s as exemplified in the work of artists such as Karel Teige.
What ‘Daisies’ does is to pull all these influences together in a dynamic that fashions them into an original creative work. In exploiting stop motion as the basis for the structure of her film, Chytilova understood the political message implicit and endemic in both in its biomechanics and its discontinuities. Using her two ‘Daisies’ as protagonists she extended Schweik’s incompetence and ‘innocent’ malevolence out into the contemporary world incorporating their iconoclastic determinism as a way of being in the world and as a means of delivering her underlying philosophical point. After the opening title sequence which intercuts the cranking of a machine with clips from aerial bombings and strafing’s, overlaid on the track by the beat of a drum, we see the two ‘Daisies’ flopped puppet-like directly in front of the audience. Marie1 says: “Everything is going bad in this world.” Marie 2 replies: “Then we are going bad as well.” This opening section introduces the idea of a marionette show, but these puppets are going to be let off the string.
‘Daisies’ style is characterised by its relentless intercutting and intra-scenic switching between different film stocks and lens filters. Chytilova’s use of visual agitation works in the context of her stop frame animation structure which is premised on outrageous impossible jump cuts and radical discontinuities, and as such folds into the expectation of the animation form. The proposition of illogical discontinuities of course runs counter to the ‘Marxist’ ideology that underlay all permitted thinking: that history was a continuous developing of an unfolding historical dialectic which had reached the end of its course with the establishment of the USSR and its sister socialist republics in Eastern Europe. History it was supposed had come to an end. Chytilova saw that what had actually developed was a dead inert structure incapable of change and lethal to creative development. Its only hope was to be shaken up, big time. ‘Daisies’ is the expression of that realisation.
The political message of Chytilova’s script is that her Daisies make the conscious decision that they should take control of their lives thereby undermining the patriarchal rules and conventions that prevent change and manipulate women into positions of inferiority.
‘Daisies’ comprises a series of vignettes which chronicle the playing out of the Daisies decision to go ‘bad,’ to take control by going out of control. Running through most of these episodes are two uncompromising visual motifs which define Chytilova’s film: the made-up faces of the two protagonists; and use of food as a signifier of rejection of social/political convention.
Our face and our attire function as expressive means that give out signs to others about our status. Faces of course also are means of expressing emotion, but it is status that is central to Chytilova’s premise in ‘Daisies’. The look of face is subject to strict conventions in many societies; veiled/unveiled; shaven/cleanshaven; natural/painted.
Film has always been in love with the face both as a object of expression leakage and as a sign of status. Both Hollywood and European movies strictly regulated the conventions of male and female facial representation. For respectable women the purpose of make-up is to align the face the more closely to the gender stereotype: no wrinkles (foundation), lipstick to shape, accentuate the mouth and eye make-up to deepen the eyes. The Daisies destroy these conventions and adopt outrageous make-up displays that actually become masks. Masks differ from makeup in their purpose is to represent the face not as self but as something other. Masks invoke in design an exteriority, an external force separate from the face behind it. The Daisies adopt a mask that calls up the Egyptian all seeing eye. Their faces are dominated by their painted eyes which sit in the centre of a large blackened proscenium shaped area which stretches over the cheeks and forehead. They do forth masked both as statement and rejection of convention. These girls are blind to nothing and no one can be blind to them.
Like make-up, like attire, food lies at the core of our social conventions, of how we interact with each other, defining of both gender class and caste. As such it is fair game for Chytilova. The elite class, the Brahmin the nomenklatura all define themselves in relation to food: what is eaten and how it is eaten. Women in particular are expected to eat demurely: control the amount they eat, to eat cleanly without getting their faces mushed up, without spillage, without mess; not to burp or fart. The Daisies are explicitly transgressive in this respect setting themselves to demolish the image of feminine prandial fastidiousness. In the eating scenes at the smart hotel the food is slopped, spilt, dropped on clothes slurped and spat out as if this behaviour was simply normal table manners. In the final banquet scene the action is explicitly over the top. Coming upon a banquet table laid out with fine fancy and expensive food they demolish the feast con gusto in a spectacle reminiscent of the finest excesses of the silent movie days. The effect is sacrilegious but of course what Chytilova is attacking is what is symbolised by the starched white table cloth, the silverware the cut glass wine goblets and the expensive food. The food and the table represent the established order which underneath its smooth exterior is rotten to the core.
After the banquet scene, the last shot of ‘Daisies’ comprises a final aerial bombing clip, over which Chytilova prints the subtitle: “ Dedicated to those of you whose sole cause of irritation is a trashed trifle.” Point made.