Two women sit side by side, sunbathing on a pier. “Everything is being spoiled in this world,” one exclaims. “What then?” the other wonders. “We’ll be spoiled too,” they conclude together. This realization-turned-proposition in the opening scene of Vera Chytilová’s Daisies serves as an explanation for the girls’ actions throughout the rest of the film as well as a guiding reference for the film’s social implications. Daisies was banned from its country of origin, Czechoslovakia, in 1966 for its supposed endorsement of wastefulness and devastation despite Chytilová’s claim that the film is meant to criticize its characters, Marie I and Marie II, and their destructive actions (Lim 37). When examined alongside its national and social contexts, a more subversive reading of Daisies emerges that transforms this intended criticism into a more complex criticism of Czechoslovakian society and a national identity that has been spoiled, repeatedly, by the world at large. Chytilová has been quoted as saying, “I want to give new meaning to a film with my editing,” (Frank 1) and this is certainly apparent in her experimental assembly in Daisies. Her focus on discontinuity of story and scenic elements is matched by a fixation with the fragmentation of Marie I and Marie II. The girls are at once a reflection of a damaged society and a constant reminder to those ignoring its flaws.
Completed in 1966, Daisies emerged in the lead up to the period known as the Prague Spring, in which restrictions on media were loosened and political reform was imminent. Czechoslovakia, in the years prior to Daisies, was a nation in constant transition, often leaving its people voiceless in their country’s role as a political tool. Czechoslovakia was formed after World War I from the lands of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia and united Czech and Slovakian people in a temporary time of prosperity and economic growth (Kurlansky 26). In the late 1930s Czechoslovakia was fractured when Nazi Germany occupied the Czech portion of the country until Soviet Union and US forces helped to liberate them in 1945. After democratically voting to become a communist nation in 1946, the people’s will was once again bypassed when the Soviet backed communist party took complete control in 1948 in a coup d’état that established a single party government and nationalized industry (Kurlansky 28). The 50s brought further political disorientation when the death of Joseph Stalin led to extensive changes in the Soviet Union and a period of reform and loosening of constraints on media and art. In contrast to these changes, however, Czechoslovakia remained under repressive governmental control until the mid 60s when a small amount of liberalization was allowed in media, art, and travel, opening Czechoslovakian culture to new freedoms and influences from around the world.
Daisies appears at the beginning of the Czechoslovakian culture shift of the mid 1960s, immediately after years of internal divide, oscillating politics, and deceptive leaders. In this context, it is clear why Marie I and Marie II decide to give up on leading honest lives and agree to reflect the world in which they live through a commitment to social corruption. Before the Maries even state their intent, the film’s opening credit sequence is repeatedly interrupted by images of wartime explosions and bombs dropped from above, setting the political undertone for their declaration that the world has been spoiled. The Maries’ dedication to disrupting society echoes the alternating state of their homeland. Multiple times throughout the film, the Maries attempt to reform, but each time they remind each other that the world is still ultimately bad, so they too must remain spoiled. After stealing money from a mothering bathroom attendant, the girls have a moment that borders on regret while they watch blissful bar patrons drinking and dancing. Contemplating the revelry, Marie I reminds Marie II that everyone lies, and this reminder of the world’s immorality jars them back to their determination. They leave the stolen money behind as they race out to execute their next act of defiance.
The Maries serve as a declaration that a spoiled or broken people cannot simply be repaired and they also serve as a reminder to the carefree and wealthy that they are all living in a damaged society. The main victims of their disruption are older men who think they are taking one of the young women out for an indulgent meal, presumably behind the backs of their wives and children. The Maries repeatedly scam the men into paying for giant meals and free-flowing alcohol for both of them, abandoning the bewildered men on train platforms after the meal. After one of their successful dinner-date schemes, the Maries find themselves in a busy club full of well-dressed couples dining and watching a show. At first the guests are able to ignore the girls’ interruptions while they sit in the back of the club blowing bubbles in their drinks with their straws and hopping up and down in their booth. Even when they climb on the railing of their table, the diners and performers do their best to ignore the disturbance until the Maries fall drunkenly over the railing. The girls punctuate the interruption with their own raucous performance as they are led out of the club, dancing, drinking, and tripping along the way. The audience sits back and watches the Maries being punished for their excesses, the proof of their own indulgences sitting on the tables in front of them.
The Maries’ actions reflect the ruined society they have found themselves in and the assembly of their actions mirrors the splintered nature of their spoiled world. The editing in Daisies is fragmentary on multiple levels, creating a discontinuous and disjointed viewing experience that directly speaks to the Czechoslovakian national identity. The assembly of the film sets the tone for the splintered nature that accompanies every scene and action, culminating in a complete fragmentation of the Maries. In the same way the Czechoslovakian people were divided throughout the twentieth century, the discontinuous edit leaves the Maries detached from any sort of narrative flow. Each scene appears as a snapshot, without backdrop or exposition other than the girls’ declared intent of being spoiled. They exist at the pier, in their bedroom, at restaurants, and in a public bathroom with minimal insight into chronology or spatial distance. In fact, Chytilová purposely disorients both the audience and the Maries by actively playing with the spatial continuum of the edit. She matches the actions of the Maries in one location to their actions in another location, giving the impression that they have just slipped into a new space. In the first of these instances, Marie I slaps Marie II after plotting their response to society and the action of Marie II falling down on the pier is followed by a shot of her falling into a field of wildflowers in a continuation of the movement.1 The Maries are aware that they are in a new setting and apprehensively explore their surroundings along with the audience. Discontinuous matches on action are used periodically throughout the film to remind both the Maries and the viewer that physical space is not at all permanent.
Chytilová also uses assembly techniques within scenes to reinforce disorientation and instability. Scenes change from black and white to color, often with no apparent motivation, and unrelated images are spliced into scenes in rapid succession. In one of the final sequences of the Maries in their bedroom, collage images of magazine cut-outs interrupt the girls as they fold each other into bedsheets whispering things like “do you feel how life flies?” and “what will happen to us?” The collage disruptions give way to literal fragmentations of the Maries as they begin playfully cutting into each other with scissors. Editing and masking techniques show the Maries’ body parts severed but continuing to move independently. The girls snip away at each other cheerfully until the frame disbands into countless pieces of the Maries that grow smaller and more frantic as they continue to cut each other apart.2 The fragments of Maries gives way to a more abstract collage of magazine and newspaper images which in turn disintegrates into frames of purely geometric moving scraps.3 This complete and voluntary visual destruction of the Maries acts as the climax of their determined representation of their spoiled society and implicates them in their own demise.
Daisies fixates on the oscillation between the autonomy of the Maries and their connection to their fractured society, spatially disorienting both the girls and the audience and visually suggesting the impermanent and fragmentary nature of their world. Against the backdrop of 1960s Czechoslovakia, the formal techniques of discontinuity echo the ongoing division and manipulation of the nation and its people. Though the Maries, and by extension the Czechoslovakian people, appear to be autonomous and even implicit in their discord, the film’s larger assembly implicates a lack of control, as the Maries attempt to respond to each new place in which they find themselves. Even their decision to reflect their spoiled society comes from an essential reaction to the status quo and any attempts to return to their untarnished conditions prove futile. They are given only two options: remain an oblivious bystander like those patrons in the nightclub that simultaneously chastise and ignore any disruption of their entertainment, or become an interruption of the damaged society and a reminder of the social turmoil that resides just out of plain sight. Considering Chytilová’s original claim that the Maries are meant to be criticized, we can come to the understanding that any criticism of the girls is by reflection a criticism of the system that has shaped their new world view as they are merely committing to mirroring their fractured population. Ultimately, the Maries, and the rest of the Czechoslovakian population, can only be products of their larger society, a society that has historically ignored the autonomy of its people and has continually left them to piece together the fragments of their national identity.
Daisies. Directed by Vera Chytilová, Filmové Studio Barrandov, 1966.
Frank, Alison. "Formal Innovation and Feminist Freedom: Vera Chytilova's Daisies." CineAction, no. 81, 2010, pp. 46+. Literature Resource Center, http:// link.galegroup.com.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu:2048/apps/doc/A237290421/LitRC? u=cuny_broo39667&sid=LitRC&xid=b116c7af.
Kurlansky, Mark. 1968: The Year that Rocked the World. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005.
Lim, Bliss Cua. "Dolls in fragments: daisies as feminist allegory." Camera Obscura, 2001, p. 37+. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu:2048/ apps/doc/A81106514/AONE?u=cuny_broo39667&sid=AONE&xid=302cfc89.