“Everything’s going bad in this world,” the young female protagonist of Věra Chytilová‘s Daisies (1966) says sullenly in the film’s opening scene. “So,” her friend replies, “we’re going bad as well.”
Endlessly frustrated, the two young women — Marie I and Marie II — decide that instead of resisting the chaos, they should embrace it. Dressed in hyperfeminine outfits (think 60s mini dresses with real flower wreaths) and moving like a pair of mechanical dolls, the two Maries start wreaking havoc on everything in their way, especially the suit-wearing older men who are eager to take them out on dates. The women subvert sexist stereotypes and use them to their own advantage to play tongue-in-cheek, infantile, and sometimes even cruel pranks: ordering copious amounts of food and expecting their dates to pay, or leading them on before sneaking out mid-evening.
A Czech New Wave staple, Daisies is full of visual experiments that are as defiant as its protagonists: the dialogue often continues despite the jump cuts between completely different scenes, and the picture unexpectedly switches from black-and-white to colour.
The avant-garde experimentation, along with the excessive consumerism depicted in the film, served as the socialist censors’ pretext for banning the work. Chytilová was unable to find work in the film industry for years after its release, and even had to use her husband’s name to get work directing commercials. Yet ultimately she survived to see Daisies become one of the most acclaimed examples of feminist cinema.
Watch on BFI Player, Criterion Channel, or Vimeo on Demand.