Academic journal article CineAction

Formal Innovation and Feminist Freedom: Vera Chytilova's Daisies

Academic journal article CineAction

Formal Innovation and Feminist Freedom: Vera Chytilova's Daisies

Article excerpt

In addition to being considered one of the founding filmmakers of the Czech New Wave, (1) Vera Chytilova was its most experimental director. This article will take as its case study her innovative 1966 film Sedmikrasky (Daisies). (2) In this film, Chytilova uses a diverse range of techniques including sudden changes from black-and-white to tinted or colour film stock, fast-forwarded segments and non-naturalistic sound effects. The film also subverts conventions of continuity editing to create an impression of the impossible: by linking two shots, it makes it appear as though characters can step from their apartment directly into a distant landscape, in a manner evocative of Luis Buhuel's Un Chien andalou (1929). This formal daring is an inseparable dimension of any message in her films. 'I want to give new meaning to a film with my editing', Chytilova declared, firmly associating formal properties with rhetorical objectives: 'I want to put things together in a new way'. (3)

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In Daisies, the director's own philosophy of filmmaking was complemented by that of her cinematographer, Jaroslav Kucera, who wanted the film image to escape from a strictly objective vocation. Kucera believed that the film should acquire the same power of 'subjective meaning' as other modern arts such as poetry, music and painting. (4) The audience's role in creating the film's meaning is thus crucial and yet comes with freedom as the film is by no means restricted to one or even a set of correct interpretations.

Although many Czech New Wave directors moved away from conventional narrative and documentary-inspired realism in favour of formal experiment, (5) Chytilova's approach was nonetheless remarkably 'disjunctive' by comparison with that of her contemporaries. Czech New Wave scholar Peter Hames has suggested that the practical purpose of this fragmentation was to 'encourage a critical attitude towards the reality presented'. (6) Chytilova's formal experimentation involves techniques which take away from cinema's impression of documenting physical reality in a direct manner. These techniques instead serve to draw audiences in and encourage them to change the way in which they usually think about film's impression of reality. At the same time, the artifice which the director imposes on the film image is balanced by an attention to the natural world which emphasises its physical properties, and which gives the audience a familiar reality with which to orient themselves. Moreover, in Daisies the sensual characteristics of the natural world create an eroticism with a comic effect that contributes overwhelmingly to undermining the established socio-sexual order.

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Daisies' desultory narrative follows two adolescent sisters who take the commonplace cliche that 'everything is going bad' as licence to behave as badly as they like. They play disruptive or destructive games that undermine traditional values of respect for people and property. The naturalist emphasis which acts as a complement to the film's formal experiment is achieved in part through locations which underline physical rather than intellectual aspects of human existence. The places featured most prominently are restaurants and a banquet hall (seven times), where enjoyment of food moves from the gourmet to the grotesque. The next most common locations all allude to sensual acts or bodily functions. The girls appear in their bedroom six times: there they engage in physical games, eat sexually suggestive foods, and parade in dishabille. Public toilets serve as location on five occasions: the girls are seen emerging from the cubicles or attending to their appearance. A pier is also used five times: this is the location of the film's opening scene, and a place where the girls are seen wearing bikinis and enjoying the sunshine, sometimes watching men.

A large part of the destruction that takes place in the film is a result of the girls' insatiable love of food, a greed which has enough social stigma attached to it to stand in for sexual appetite in women. …

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