Daisies (Czech: Sedmikrásky) is a 1966 Czech film directed by Věra Chytilová considered a milestone of the Nová Vlna movement and the modern surrealist cinema.
Made with the support of the state-sponsored film studio, it follows two teenage girls, both named Marie, played by Ivana Karbanová and Jitka Cerhová; throughout the film they engage in strange pranks as acts of rebellion against the world in which they live.
Innovatively filmed, and released a couple of years before the Prague Spring, Daisies was labeled as "depicting the wanton" by the Czech authorities and then banned. Director Chytilová was forbidden to work in her homeland until 1975.
On the surface, Daisies’ assemblage of outlandish scenarios enacted by two ferociously antiestablishment figures would seem to mark it as simple anarchic slapstick, like a New Wave Marx Brothers comedy. But Chytilová has called her film “a philosophical documentary in the form of a farce.” The Maries are not merely railing against a society that views them as little more than objects (in the opening scene, Marie II calls herself a panna, which translates as both “doll” and “virgin” in Czech, and the girls play with, and at one point remove, their limbs as though they were the plastic appendages of mannequins); they are also existentially angry. Early on, they decide the world is meaningless, “spoiled,” which they use as justification to spoil themselves. By refusing to cultivate a psychological connection between audience and character, and by confounding any sense of narrative momentum, Chytilová and her screenwriting partner Ester Krumbachová create protagonists who seem to have no future or past. Blank slates, they have been interpreted over the years variously as embodiments of healthy rebellion and the banality of evil. Either way, they are good representations of Chytilová’s belief that “people are primitives and aesthetes at the same time.”
Though Daisies remains playful to its climactic orgy (a mega food fight), it is ultimately a dark, subversive work, aggressively critiquing those who might find it offensive before they even have a chance to complain: its closing dedication is to people who “get upset only over a stomped-upon bed of lettuce,” over the sounds of firing artillery.
After a few minutes of the film’s free, unpredictable energy you see what made people nervous. The two young women turn a food-filled banquet table into a catwalk, prank older male suitors on humiliating dates, and get drunk at a nightclub and upstage its performers. They lounge half-dressed in their green-accented flat, the walls covered with phone numbers and flower engravings, munching on pickles and sparring playfully in singsong tones.
Their creativity and destructiveness are “two sides of the same coin,” Ms. Chytilova said in an interview during the 2002 Prague on Film Festival in London. The twinned heroines — one blonde and laureled like a nymph, the other a taller brunette — act like dolls run amok, but they’re also impish adolescents tweaking society through their experiments in self-definition. “We can try anything once,” they exclaim in their existential repartee.
But especially amid the flux of 1960s Czechoslovakia their free-spirited activity was open to unsettling interpretations. Do their games represent the dangers of idleness and ideological shapelessness, or do the women personify a punklike liberation? And what to make of the archival war footage that opens and closes the film?
“It’s very ambiguous!” Michal Bregant, director of the National Film Archive in Prague, wrote in an e-mail. “It looks like an anarchist statement, but the director wanted to warn what might be the consequences of irresponsible human behavior.”