Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A bit of analysis on Czech hidden gem "Daisies"



Film “Daisies” by Vera Chytilova was made in Czechoslovakia in the times of oppression and strong political control of communist party over all the form of art. Vera Chytilova and other brilliant Czech filmmakers (like Milos Forman and Ivan Passer) contributed to the creation of movement that was later called as “Czech New Wave”.

The objective of making film for them was “to make the Czech people collectively aware that they are participants in a system of oppression and incompetence which had brutalized them.” Most films of Czech New Wave including “Daisies” were made just few years before the events of Prague Spring, period of political liberalization at the end of 1960-s in Czechoslovakia.

When analyzing this film it is important to look at the historical, social and cultural context of the times and place where this film was made. “Daisies” is enjoyable to watch and anyone who ever had to deal with any form of repression can relate to this film. “Daisies” is a filmic fest of freedom and joy of rebellion. Somewhat surrealistic it is explained not only by the cultural context but also the social and political setting in which this film was created. Surrealism of this film is an antidote to brutal realism of Soviet and communist societies.

“Daisies” is a great example of anti-narrative structure, made in the years of political, social and cultural oppression it breaks the rules of narrative and style. It is not simply an example of anti-narrative art, it is in every form an attempt of deconstruction of narration. This film despite its illogical structure and form makes an enjoyable and intelligent viewing experience, because the absence of plot is compensated by creation of story (“fabula”) by each individual viewer.

Some parts of “Daisies” include dialogue, but those that do not are in a way similar to silent movies.Soundtrack is mostly illogical and non-diegetic. Some of the scenes are especially similar to the early silent comedies from the use of filmic style: the scene in the night club where girls outperform dancers and show outrageous and silly behavior. First of all there is no dialogue in this scene, only music accompanying it. The place where girls sit looks like a static. Exaggerated movements and gags are great example of early comedies, when cinema was not regarded as a form of art but a form of entertainment.

This is again a revolutionary act from the authors of the film, as in communist societies, film could not be the form of entertainment and pleasure, but the form of education and propaganda.

The absence of constructed dialogue plays an important role in destroying the narration. Rudolf Arnheim argues that “The addition of spoken dialogue has made storytelling easier, dialogue narrows the world of film.”

The context of this film is linked to its filmic style: it is illogical and inconsistent. Any filmic style created is destroyed within some moments. For example, the change of colours with the rhythmic repetition is linked to the change of sound and when audience gets used to it and regards it as the filmic form, just in few moments it is broken only to be replaced by another one. Therefore I believe that the context of this film and the destruction of narration is closely linked to the destruction of filmic style.

Abundancy in food is mirrored in abundancy in filmic construction (although in this case I mean deconstruction): bold cuts, very bright colours, great variety of various cuts, psychedelic visuals , especially the ones with moving train and of course the great number of montage pictures of various things from roses to butterflies.

Film “Daisies” is full of images and actions that can be regarded as archetypes. Carl Gustav Jung described archetypes as “inborn tendencies which shape the human behavior”. These visions and symbols are universal. Jung continues “we often meet these themes in the fantasies, dreams, delirious ideas and illusions". As film in question is following deconstruction of narration and plot , the experience of watching it is very similar to fantasy or a surreal dream. This dream is full of archetypes: a tree of life, virginity, apples (and food in general) as a source of knowledge and life. And of course archetypical fears like castration (cutting phallic-shape food with scissors proceeding to cutting own bodies) and drowning as a form of punishment.  (http://www.carl-jung.net/archetypes.html, 2010).

By including archetypes Chytilova made the experience of watching this film more surreal and dream-like and as any dreams are very deconstructed and illogical. Usually in the morning we do not remember the plot of the dream however we strongly remember the feeling of it.

However one should make a difference between archetypes and stereotypes. While archetypes are included in the convention of the film, stereotypes are destroyed. It is interesting to compare “Daisies” to another very feminine film that deals with stereotypes, “Gentlemen prefer blondes”. The American film does not deconstruct stereotypes but acknowledges their role in society. For example Lorelei says: “Don't you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help?” (Gentlemen prefer blondes, 1953).

In contrast to that Chytilova destroys every stereotype and “heroines rebelliously try to subvert the patriarchal system and gender stereotypes”. The revolutionary act of sabotaging gender stereotypes goes in harmony with the filmic style of deconstruction. (Kinoeye, 2002).

A great example of illogical narration within the film is a philosophical question (although in the film it is a trivial problem): “Why do they say “I love you”? Why don’t they say, for example “egg”?” Main characters question the meaning of the words that are used everyday with no real meaning and value to it. If they are used with no meaning, why not replace it with something else. The whole film exploits this idea and replaces values and meanings with very brief creation of new meanings and style only for them to be deconstructed in next to no time.

There are different approaches to the principles of film narration. The distinction between the story and the form was theorized by the Russian Formalists. They studied two most important principles: story (also called fabula) and plot (syuzhet).  The plot is “a system because it arranges components – the story events and states of affairs – according to specific principles”. And there are three sorts of principles that relate plot to the story: Narrative Logic, Time and Space. Chytilova does not follow these principles in “Daisies”, the flow of story is illogical, time does not matter and space is a free structure.

Story or fabula on the other hand is not a system, it is action, series of events. Tynianov argues that “story can only be guessed, it is not a given”. (David Bordwell, 2005).

At the very beginning of the film Marie I says “Nobody understands anything”, this  is a great summary to the plot of the film: it warns audience that there is nothing to understand and every attempts to find meaning and matter will be laughed at and destroyed within no time. (Daisies, 1966).

Narration structure was viewed as one of the most important elements in creating film and plot. But experimental filmmakers had a fresh approach to filmmaking by using anti-narrative. Anti-narrative on its own has got a structure and follows its own rules created by authors within the film. But “Daisies” is a great example of early experimental films which destroy any attempt to find logical plot. Any new form of narration and style to be regarded as new shall be first deconstructed and broken.

At the end of the film when girls are drowning, film questions: “Is there any way to mend what’s been destroyed”. The answer is no, as girls are killed with a huge chandelier and the film is ended with no chance to mend its deconstruction. (Daisies, 1966).
This was followed not only in art but also in society: revolutions were needed to create a new society. It is a pity that it took Czech Republic and its filmmakers such a long time before revolution and the chance to create openly.


Bibliography.

Bordwell, D. Principles of Fim Narration. In: Wartenberg, T.E., Curran, A. eds. The Philosophy of Film, 2005, Oxford: Blakwell Publishing Ltd.

Concept of Archetypes at Carl Jung, 2010. Carl Jung Resources, [online]. Available at: http://www.carl-jung.net/archetypes.html

Daisies (Sedmikr√°sky), Vera Chytilov√°, 1966, Czechoslovakia.

Gentlemen prefer blondes, Howard Hawks, 1953, USA.

Hames, P., The Czechoslovak New Wave, 1985, Los Angeles: Berkeley.

Radkiewicz, M., 2002. Angry Young Girls. Kinoeye, 2(8).