A satirical, wild and irreverent story of rebellion, Věra Chytilová’s classic of surrealist cinema is perhaps also the most adventurous and anarchic Czech movie of the 1960s. Two young women, both named Marie, revolt against a degenerate, decayed and oppressive society, attacking symbols of wealth and bourgeois culture. Daisies remains a cinematic enigma and its influence is still felt today.

Daisies is based on the story of two teenage girls who decide that since the world has been spoiled, they will be spoiled as well. Neither has a name, although they are named Marie I and Marie II in the official credits. They have no individual identity, psychology, or history and describe themselves as dolls. Aside from their physical appearance (one blonde, one brunette), their roles are interchangeable. The film also lacks any conventional narrative and consists of a series of scenes or “happenings” centred on the verbal exchange “Vadi?” (“Does it matter?”), “Nevadi” (“It doesn’t matter”).

The original script was written in conjunction with the writer and designer, Ester Krumbachová, who was a key influence on many “New Wave” films. She collaborated on Jan Němec’s The Party and the Guests (O slavnosti a hostech) and Martyrs of Love (Mučedníci lásky) in the same year, and later on Chytilová’s The Fruit of Paradise (Ovoce stromů rajských jíme, 1969) and Jaromil Jireš’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů, 1970), making her only feature film (co-scripted with Němec) in The Murder of Engineer Devil (Vražda ing. Čerta).

But the script for Daisies only provided the film’s starting point. Speaking specifically of its dialogue, Chytilová told Jacques Rivette and Michel Delahaye that it was a means of safeguarding the film’s meaning. Otherwise, they were open to free thinking and improvisation. “We decided to allow ourselves to be bound by nothing. Absolutely nothing”. Given these freedoms, it is hardly surprising that the film is open to many interpretations. Indeed, just as she demanded “absolute freedom” as a creator so the same privilege was granted to the audience.

She once described the film as a “philosophical documentary in the form of a farce”. The girls live in a kind of vacuum without past or future and their cheating and provocation leads to the destruction of both themselves and everything about them (in the final images, we have a montage of wars and a nuclear explosion). In this sense, there seems to be little doubt that Chytilová originally intended to make a film that criticised the girls. However, as her husband, the cinematographer Jaroslav Kučera suggested, effects that were intended to provoke criticism sometimes led to unpredictable aesthetic results. It can even be argued that the pure joy of creation and innovation “takes over” the film, leading to an audience identification with the girls’ mischievous and anarchic games.

Zdena Škapová offers an interpretation close to Chytilová’s original intentions when she argues that identification with the girls’ mindless behaviour and attack on society does not destroy the film’s moral criticism. “They assert themselves with voracious energy and, in a reversal of the norms, take great pleasure in manipulating others, especially men…”, but this is less a positive example of emancipation but “a warning of the direction that emancipation might take”. The audience is invited to join in an irresponsible game. In contrast, Petra Hanáková suggests that the “moral message of the framing fails to impose itself on the impulsively “naughty” film core”. Arguing that its meaning is a by-product of female creativity, she suggests that the film is “…a projection of the biting wit of the authors unpredictably criticising the workings of patriarchy”. The film allows the inscription of female desire and gratification and corrupts patriarchal language through nonsense and irony.” – Peter Hames, Courtesy of Second Run