Sunday 6 January 2013

Daisies (1966)

I came to 'Sedmikrásky' with no clues at all to its style or content, as it was passed to me without cover or introduction by my friend Opai, who DJs a radio show of excellent or terrible music (the like of which one could never hear in any other circumstances), and who, I reasoned, could recommend me films nobody else would know existed or dare to advocate.

The opening credits - the wheels of a persistent machine, intercut with grainy footage of bombs and exploding planes - suggested that this film might regard some desperate post-apocalyptic struggle for survival.  I was wholly unprepared for what ensued: an unreasonably bizarre and psychadelic Czech comedy, the sort of thing you might see spoofed but would never believe actually existed.

'This film is dedicated to those whose sole
source of indignation is a messed up trifle'

Perhaps it might be clearest if I described the first scene, tinted a grey blue.  Two young women in bikinis.  When they move, they creak INCREDIBLY LOUDLY as if crudely hinged.  One, named Maria, begins to pick her nose.  The other, also named Maria, plays the trumpet.  Since the world is so bad, they resolve to become equally bad.  Maria slaps Maria into colour, and into the world.  Are they angels?  Robots?  Women?

They dance in a full-colour apple grove before falling into an apartment, and taking a man out for lunch.  They eat at him, and this tinted in every colour you might know.  The man is in no way extraordinary, and they make sure he catches his train.  The train is made of colour.  If it wasn't played out under such whimsical music, it might have taken me longer to realise this was a comedy.  That's not to say it's bad or not funny, just that this is unlike anything I've ever seen, as if writer/director Věra Chytilová has heard the concept of 'comedy' described to her but never seen any before making the film.

Maria and Maria take a man out for lunch

The sound, the music and foley are no more predictable than the pictures.  Footsteps are loud and almost wholly un-footstep-like.  Just as limbs may creak like barn doors, so motions may make the sounds of ukulele and harpsichord.  At one point the apartment seems to be host to an off-screen typist, as a loud typewriter permeates the scene as if it were a newspaper office.  Eventually this transpires to be music, rather than sound effect, typed percussion.  At one point the telephone rings so long, unnoticed, that I thought it too may be incidental music.  Eventually Maria picks it up, only to exclaim into the receiver 'Rehabilitation centre!  Die, die, die!  He he he he he he he!'  She hangs up, the picture fills with a dozen sudden close-ups of red roses, and we again hear 'die, die die'.  This is after she had tried to recreationally gas herself, but accidentally left the window open.

Maria has cut her head off with scissors

The men in the film are tedious, anonymous, appearing at dates to be charmed then outraged, then hurry to catch their trains; or else not seen at all - heard knocking at the door and asking to be let in, or only heard over the telephone.  The Marias take a phone-call from such an un-named admirer, all the while using scissors to snip the ends off sausages, cucumbers and bananas.  It's an uncomfortable sequence, but they seem to be having great fun; I found myself feeling like a woman watching a film made for men.

I shall say now, I have remarkably little idea what is going on in this film.  I've never seen anything even slightly like this, and I'm still trying to make sense of even a minute of it.  For the first hour I simply boggled at it, worked out it was a comedy and wondered whether at any point it would burst into a particularly avant-garde episode of 'The Goodies'.  It would be easy to look at this in the standard way of investigating any startling and apparently insane sixties artworks, and assume that everybody was on every drug at all times, but the end left me wondering whether these unpredictable antics were meant to be taken more politically - but I'm glad I couldn't work out any clear meaning behind it.  To analyse this fun would be to kill it, and I look forward greatly to seeing this again and finding it no less surprising.

'How do you know you exist?'

I can't help feeling that, just trying to describe the film's contents, I've made it sound much more orderly and deliberate than it feels.  Skipping once more through the scenes, I find I've been inventing sense for it and making links that aren't there at all.  It flits like a dream: there are dozens of dead butterflies, suddenly they're being made coffee in the public toilet, they steal from a handbag, they hop upstairs, they set their apartment on fire, delighted, to strains of choral music.  If you have the chance, you should probably watch this.

P.S. The film was banned in its native Czechoslovakia, so it sounds like somebody got it, or didn't.

P.P.S. The next film I'll watch will be the oft-recommended 'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari' (1920), and the next blog post will regard 'Finding Neverland' (2004).  Merry Epiphany

I don't believe a film has ever left me quite so confused or amazed while being so enjoyable as this.

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