Today I’m going to talk a bit about two films I recently watched and still can’t stop thinking about.
“The imaginary is what tends to become real.” (Andre Breton)
Last Wednesday I finally watched these two brilliant films – Daisies or Sedmikrasky (1966) and Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970). Looking back, it seems I had an afternoon of Czech New Wave, and what a wonderful afternoon it was! The first film I watched, Daisies, directed by Věra Chytilová, is about two girls, Marie I (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie II (Ivana Karbanová), who, led by the thought that everything is relative and that the world is f*cked up, decide to do everything they want, and that includes behaving improper at restaurants, cutting sheets, dining with wealthy men, eating lots and lots of food, cutting eggs and pickled cucumbers with scissors, having a bath in milk, walking through a corn field, just fooling around really.
Every scene of this film is so aesthetically pleasing; from Marie II’s floral headband and bright orange hair and their pretty 1960s dresses, to their walls half-covered with drawing of flowers and pressed flowers and half with phone numbers and addresses of their ‘sugar daddies’. Just to observe them having fun is a cure for mundaneness of daily life. And Czech language is so soft and pleasant to the ear, especially when Marie I says something like ‘Kam jdeš?’ (Where are you going?) or Marie II proclaiming she likes food very much. Their cheeky behaviour is hilarious. Oh, did I mention it was forbidden by the Communist regime? Forbidden fruit always tastes better.
I’ve read about these two films on a website about weird films. This is what makes this film weird, according to the author of the website:
“Watching the bright colors and bratty joie de vivre of Marie I and II as they slash and burn their way through square society, cutting up phallic symbols and the film stock itself with scissors, it’s hard to believe that Daisies wasn’t produced under the influence of drugs. Made a year before and half a world away from San Francisco’s Summer of Love, this proto-flower power film nonetheless captures the anarchic spirit of Sixties psychedelia; it’s a relic from an alternate universe populated by sexy Czech hippy chicks with serious cases of the munchies. Alternately described as a feminist manifesto, a consumerist satire, and a Dadaist collage, it seems that no one—possibly including the director herself—is quite clear on what Daisies is supposed to be about. Does it matter? No, it doesn’t.” (source)
“I’m an enemy of stupidity and simple-mindedness in both men and women and I have rid my living space of these traits.” (Vera Chytilová)
Valerie and her Week of Wonders (original title Valerie a Týden Divu), 1970, directed by Jaromil Jiroš, is different in subject and atmosphere, but what connects it to Daisies is a similar creative and non-commercial approach to film making. Valerie, played by Jaroslava Schallerova, is a thirteen year old girl who lives in a small town with her granny who, by the way, looks really frightening. Actually, Valerie’s surroundings hold a sinister appeal all together; from a pale-faced man referred to as ‘the Weasel’, a lusty priest, mass that resembles an orgy, granny whipping her self and proclaiming her love to the priest. Valerie falls in love and often rescues a boy named Eagle (Orlik, played by Petr Kopriva), who is either her brother or just her neighbour.
You could draw a parallel between ‘Valerie and her Weeks of Wonders’ and Lewis Caroll’s opium-laced classic Alice in Wonderland, but Valerie’s story has a flair of Middle European small towns, with a dash of vampires, Edwardian-revival white lace dresses, barley fields, and lots of mystery. All these weird things start occurring after Valerie becomes a woman, symbolised by a daisy splashed with blood drops. The film is an adaption of Vítězslav Nezval’s novel of the same name. Nezval was a co-founder of the first Czech Surrealist group, and I think the film’s dreamy, surreal atmosphere justifies the story’s origin.
As I’m writing this, I’m planning to watch two more Czech films – Morgiana (1972) and Alice (Neco z Alenky, 1988), and I hope they’ll be equally weird in a good way! Strange are the paths of one’s imagination; in the beginning of June I was crazy about kitchen sink dramas and wouldn’t watch anything else, and now I totally want to delve even deeper in Surrealism and Czech films. Crazy.