They say that variety is the spice of life. In a continuing attempt to embrace that variety here with One Movie Each Day, I’ve decided to dedicate each Wednesday review to the stranger side of cinema, the type of movies that I’d never normally watch, but that I’m kind of secretly glad exist. In celebration or in condemnation of the eccentric, the odd, the freaky, the kinky, the ghastly, the freaky, the fearful, the flaky, and the freaky, I now present, from behind the Iron Curtain, this, the fourteenth named edition of Wednesday Weirdness.
Since starting Wednesday Weirdness I’ve generally maintained that, until proven otherwise, Japan provides the gold standard for cinematic weirdness. However, as I’m delving deeper, I’m beginning to discover that the creation of strange movies knows no national boundaries. Today’s movie comes behind the Iron Curtain in 1966, and proves that mid-century Czechoslovakia was a weirder place than I’d thought.
Today’s movie, is Daisies a surreal just outright strange movie that is apparently considered a one of the great achievements of the Czechoslovakian New Wave movement. For whatever that’s worth. (I didn’t even know it was a thing.) The film was evidently produced in-part by Czechoslovakia’s state-run film studio, but upon its completion it was banned in the country for being subversive. Being banned by communists is always a way for a film to earn a couple points in my book.
The film is highly surreal, but unlike other surreal films I’ve seen, which can be dark and disturbing, Daisies is actually bright and cheerful. What’s more, while its definitely weird, it actually kind-of makes sense, and there’s even something of a coherent narrative plot.
This plot follows two young women, both named Marie. In the opening scene they lament the state of society and quickly conclude that since the whole world has been spoiled, they should be spoiled too. They then set out on a series of madcap escapades, trying to behave as badly as possible. They go to a party and in a scene that honestly seems like it could be a modern hipster-retro commercial for Pilsner Urquell, they generally carouse and cause a ruckus. They also spend a great deal of time dating older men. These scenes generally end with the man being tricked into boarding a train, and being shipped off to Bohemia by himself.
The film has a real obsession with eating and drinking. I wasn’t keeping track early on but I doubt that there’s a single scene in which some form food or drink doesn’t play a role. This all comes to a head at the end when the two Marie’s sneak into a banquet hall that has been laid out for a formal dinner for state officials, then gorge themselves making a complete and utter mess in the process.
Daisies has an amazingly creative and vivid visual style, it’s flush with odd camera angles, and visual non-sequiturs. It cuts freely between bold color and tinted black-and-white footage. Often scenes, and even sentences are punctuated with strange kaleidoscopic or static images. At one point, when the girls seem lost, and are trying to find their way into a building the film becomes just an extended sequence of close-up shots of different types of padlocks.
Sometimes, with strange or surrealistic films, the endless cascade of strange images can become boring pretty quickly, but that’s not really the case here. Director Vera Chytilová avoids falling into the trap of repeating the same trick, but instead continues to introducing new visuals while maintaining enough of a narrative thread to present a more-or-less coherent story.
I thoroughly enjoyed Daisies, like most entries in the Wednesday Weirdness series, it’s definitely not for everybody, but I think its definitely an unusually broad appeal for a a surrealist picture. The bright and cheery visual style, and the charming performances from the two lead actresses, really make the movie fun to watch.
So we come down to the question, is the movie a “must see”? No, though it does come close enough that I had to at least think about it. However, while it does fall short of my highest rating, Daisies is absolutely worth seeing.