Daisies: Giggling Generals; One and Two
The title of Daisies (1966) evokes innocence and simplicity—an expectation that the prankster accomplices at its heart, Marie I and II, gleefully subvert. Giggling and batting their eyes, they mimic pliable femininity, then turn the tables on the men who would exploit them, in a full-scale assault against decorum. When the Czech director Věra Chytilová made Daisies, her second feature, Czechoslovakia had endured nearly two decades of repressive Communist rule, and she was one of the leading voices in a new generation of filmmakers who expressed resistance through gestures of allegorical insubordination that were semantically slippery enough to possibly get by the censors. Similarly, the Maries operate like guerrilla insurgents across Prague, disguising their true intentions and refusing to dutifully submit their bodies for either labor or male gratification. Their antics are set in the context of modern warfare from the first frames, which jolt us with footage of a World War II dive-bomber’s annihilation, as drums beat a militant march.
Daisies is the most formally radical and one of the most politically subversive films of what is now known as the Czechoslovak New Wave. The bold innovators of that movement—which emerged in the sixties and also included Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel, and Jan Němec, among others—rebelled against the straightforward morality tales of the officially mandated socialist realism with dark, absurdist satires about the indignities of life under Communism. Their work was energized by a new cultural openness and appetite for reform in Czechoslovakia, which would culminate in 1968’s Prague Spring, when First Secretary Alexander Dubček moved to implement “socialism with a human face.” But the heady taste of greater creative freedom was brief. In August, Kremlin hard-liner Leonid Brezhnev sent tanks to squash the liberalization efforts, and a censorship crackdown followed. Daisies was banned, and Chytilová was effectively blacklisted for years. Today, more than a half century on, the film has lost none of its incendiary force.
In fact, the post-invasion ban of Daisies was its second. The film had premiered in Prague on December 30, 1966, and, for the next several months, been widely popular in Czechoslovakia with both critics and audiences. This positive reception of such a radical film led a member of Parliament to issue an official critique in May 1967; shortly thereafter, Daisies was suppressed by censors until March 1968—after which it could briefly be seen again until the Soviet invasion and clampdown.