Czech Avant-Garde: ‘Daisies’ and ‘Valerie and her Week of Wonders’

19 Jun

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)

Sedmikrasky (1966) 51

Daisies (1966)

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)

***

Sedmikrasky (1966) 47

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)

Sedmikrasky (1966) 44

Sedmikrasky (1966) 30

Sedmikrasky (1966) 25

Sedmikrasky (1966) 33

Sedmikrasky (1966) 2

"Tausenschönchen - kein Märchen" CSSR 1966 Ivana Karbanova (links), Jitka CerhovaSedmikrasky (1966) 43 Sedmikrasky (1966) 5 Sedmikrasky (1966) 55

Sedmikrasky (1966) 37

***

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.

***

1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 21970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 17

1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 141970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 231970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 261970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 20 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 19 Valerie a tÏden divÖ - neg color 2.jpg 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 22 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 9 1970. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Jaromil Jires, Alena Stojakova 25

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.

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9 Responses to “Czech Avant-Garde: ‘Daisies’ and ‘Valerie and her Week of Wonders’”

  1. Estera 24th Sep 2016 at 11:02 pm #

    funny, i’ve watched these two movies too and i loved the absurd absurd and grotesque of czeh movies, so magical and deep in meaning…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 25th Sep 2016 at 8:33 pm #

      I totally agree, and thanks for commenting. ‘Valerie’ has some specially magical, ominous and avant-garde aesthetics.

      Like

  2. Mark 4th Feb 2018 at 11:26 pm #

    I started both of these movies months ago but didn’t get very far. Recently I went back to them with a more open mindset and really enjoyed them a lot. I subscribe to FilmStruck and have found so many interesting films on there.

    Like

  3. Cakeordeath 16th Apr 2019 at 1:48 am #

    Wonderful post about two movies I have always wanted to watch but for some reason haven’t. I will definitely correct that. Oddly enough I have read the novel of Valerie which is very very weird. An afternoon of Czech surrealism sounds just lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 19th Apr 2019 at 9:56 pm #

      Sorry for a late reply! And thank you for following me, you blog is very interesting as well, it’s making me appreciate Surrealism more. I think you will love both films. I certainly have, especially Valerie, it’s so strange and whimsical.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cakeordeath 19th Apr 2019 at 11:49 pm #

        No need to be sorry. I have to thank you very much for these suggestions. I did as you did and had a Czech New Wave afternoon and watched Daisies and Valerie back to back. Blew me away. For me Daisies slightly shaded it but the ending to Valerie was a real trip. The influence of Surrealism and Alice is strong. Thank you for the compliment as well.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Byron's Muse 20th Apr 2019 at 2:46 pm #

          You must have had a wonderful afternoon and I am so glad you enjoyed both films! I am glad I can spread the word and inspire people to check out things I find. It’s amazing to discover new things.

          Liked by 1 person

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 5 Dreamy, Romantic, Coming of Age Films | Byron's muse - 19th Jul 2018

    […] I put this film last on the list although it should be the first chronologically, because it is more strange than dreamy, and more surrealistic and romantic and that makes it a bit different from the previous ones. “Valerie and her Weeks of Wonders” is a Czech film based on the same-named novel written in 1935 by a Czech avant-garden writer Vítězslav Nezval, first published in 1945, and described as “part fairy-tale, part Gothic”. The film is bursting with strangeness and plenty of things don’t make sense, so you needn’t seek logic, just embrace the dream. The main character is a girl named Valerie who is thirteen years old and we follow her life in the countryside with her grandmother who looks frighteningly pale. She has a friend named Orlík and often looses her earrings, her grandma disappears and another woman comes, a local priest is a vampire-like creature with a white fan… Everything is twisted and intriguing and very dream, but I have to add that this film is a bit different, a bit more weird, to the ones I’ve talked about before so that’s why I decided to put it last in this list. Also, I have already written a review on this film here. […]

    Like

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