If Bugs Bunny had a pair of sisters, they might be Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová), the two bored, anarchic young women who bounce their way through Vera Chytilova’s Daisies. (Come to think of it, Thing 1 and Thing 2, from Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, might be even more apt comparisons.) A colorfully idiosyncratic entry in the Czech New Wave, Daisies wreaks havoc with an explosive playfulness that wouldn’t be out of place in a Looney Tunes cartoon.
Early on, Karbanová’s Marie II observes, “Everything is f***ed up in this world… When everything is f***ed up, we’ll be f***-ups too.” And so they are, taking over a cabaret, for example, by upstaging the main act with their own goofy, clumsy routine at the back of the room. Men and their wars (often a quick, near-subliminal insert shot of a bomb being dropped will interrupt the action) seem to be the Maries’ main targets. They routinely meet older, predatory men for dinner, then spoil the evening with their erratic, “unfeminine” behavior. Cerhová wolfing down everything on the menu at one seating, to their host’s dismay, is a comic highlight. And I have to think there is some sort of circumcision implication in the way she’s constantly snipping objects with a pair of scissors.
Neither Cerhová nor Karbanová were experienced performers when they made Daisies, but each brings a distinct comic flavor. Shorter and often wearing a flower crown, Cerhová has a Puck-like presence, floating through the film as if being blown by the wind. The taller Karbanová has an incredibly expressive face, the better to poutily lure lascivious men in and then open wide with laughter when she doesn’t play the expected part. (The Maries’ cackling especially reminded me of Bugs Bunny’s mischievous laugh.) If both women often exaggeratedly act like little girls, it’s because they know these men want to infantilize them.
As their aesthetic guide, Chytilova dismantles our usual sense of space and color, adding to the film’s cartoonish vibe. (“We can’t be everywhere at once,” one of them says at one point, but Chytilova shows that they can.) An opening, black-and-white prelude is disrupted when Karbanová playfully slaps Cerhová and sends her, in a quick cut, tumbling into a colored field of flowers. Often, with even less of a warning, the entire screen begins flashing among various, pastel colors, as if the celluloid itself has decided to be a f****-up.
There is a darkness beneath all this: an impishly failed suicide attempt (if there can be such a thing); another sequence in which the Maries light the streamers hanging from their bedroom ceiling on fire. And the climax involves the two of them returning to a lavish dinner table they’ve previously destroyed to robotically clean things up, murmuring that they are “wholesome, orderly, virtuous, hardworking.” This isn’t where the movie ends, but it still gives the film a hint of sadness. The Maries will continue in their dippy defiance, but they seem to have learned that they won’t get away with it.