Gender I

film 4 of 4


Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 1, 2015

With all of its ambiguities and obscurities and provocations, Věra Chytilová’s Daisies is at least partly an exercise in perception, or a construct designed to call attention to how we perceive. The beginning and the end—machinery and bombing intercut, the ruined city—suggest that there is also something further, or deeper, at hand. However, the thorough and unremitting brattiness of the film calls that into question somewhat.

How annoying! Our two young protagonists mince and prance and baby talk their way through the entire film. They, and their director, are definitely up to something quite specific. Something quite productive too, as far as it goes. Some of the institutions and behaviours that these young women so roundly mock/criticize doubtless deserved it. Western viewers may particularly be drawn to the film’s critiques of the Communist regime, and of Soviet-and-satellite Communism generally.

But there’s a problem here, and it applies to so much of impertinently youthful satire. Point fingers, by all means, but let’s attend to our own selves, our own foibles while we’re at it! Daisies gives us stuff like Brahms’ Requiem sounding portentously on the soundtrack while our protagonists cut sausages and bananas with a big pair of scissors. Patriarchy might actually need some emasculating, and the mere brattiness of this particular sequence, and others like it, can be salutary. But beams-and-motes! Might one’s own shortcomings come under consideration as well? Further, fairness! What, after all, is wrong with great old Germans, or consolation in tragedy and the hope of a glorious resurrection?

Well, I guess we should be fair ourselves. It is possible, even likely that this Brahms quotation was not work, not opus number-specific. So I don’t have to get so defensive about it. Further, the Wagner’s/Siegfried’s funeral march undoubtedly is work or opus-specific, and though that particular cue is more than a bit over-familiar, or over-utilized, it does work really well in the epochal banquet destruction in which it appears. This isn’t just a call to Revolution. (And on the cusp of a grand thaw in Czechoslovakia, so soon to end in an infinitely more epochal and destructive crackdown, the revolution in question is definitely not Marxist.) It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics! This stupendous affront to bourgeois ornament and privilege really is a sequence for the ages. There’s a specific Czech or Czechoslovak referent here. Beyond that particular, though, this is anarchy of the most appalling, most exhilarating kind. The spectator is very likely to cringe and exult at the same time; in this utterly unhinged episode Chytilová certainly gets right down to the deep and important things that she’d been hinting at.

But still, all that mincing and prancing! In the end, for all of its undoubted virtues, Daisies just puts me right off!

Mind you, I do recognize what’s going on here, and I should probably have a sense both of humour and humility about it. It might just be that I am this film’s actual target. Glance over this little review, and the points it has been making. They’ve been talking to me the whole time, haven’t they? And don’t I have egg on my face? “This film is dedicated to those whose sole source of indignation is a messed up trifle.”

Brats can often, actually, have a point.

They’re still bratty though…