The Czech New Wave was a film movement that emerged in 1963 which writer Simon Hitchman in his 2015 article suggested was due to increasing pressure for socio-political reform within Czechoslovakia. The country was in the midst of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSR) period in which the country was under communist rule. Film makers needed a voice to combat this oppressive rule and thus the New Wave movement began. During this period, a renowned female director, Vera Chytilova; ‘first lady of Czech cinema,’ according to Fox in 2014, released the film Daisies in 1966. The film is a 70-minute experimental, absurdist look at two young girls who, after deciding that the world ‘has gone bad’ decide that they themselves will ‘go bad’ too. They embark on a series of anarchic, destructive behaviours as a rebellion against society. Theorist Shaviro in 2007 wrote that he regarded Daisies as a ‘violently nihilistic assault’ against the conventions of filmmaking, social normalities and even the spectator themselves.
Originating from the Latin ‘nihil’ meaning nothing, Nihilism is a philosophical belief that denies any sort of purpose in life. Existential Nihilism, present within this film, argues that life is without value. In an academic journal published in 2001, BC Lim highlights that in a panel discussion Chytilova said, “On a superficial level Daisies is the story of two girls but it really is an existential story.” Although not entirely present, these nihilistic tones are evident in the final sequence of the film. After spending the duration of the film questioning their existence and asking, “does it matter?” The girls spend some time cleaning up after their feast and food fight that takes place at the end of the film. After they have finished, the girls state with uncertainty that they are happy and conclude that their happiness doesn’t matter.
They are then immediately crushed by a falling chandelier, emphasising the lack of meaning in their lives as they have seemingly reached happiness only to die immediately after, having nothing to show for it. From this it is clear why it was described as a nihilistic film, the girls’ lives are without value.
The way Chytilova chose to make this film was a statement against the communist regime and the work systems that were in place between 1948 and 1990. Writers Mazierska and Kristensen in 2014 explored the idea that the history of the 21st century “cannot be told without reference to both cinema and communism.” And argue that film is a form of social communication. Daisies is an example of this. Philosopher Karl Marx, is regarded as ‘the father of communism’, (Byas, 2018.) Ethan Huff states that Marx believed the phrase “abolition of private property,” perfectly summed up the idea of communism. This outlines the work systems of those within an oppressive communist regime, who worked hard for little to no personal satisfaction or reward, but rather for everything to be owned by the state. Huff continues in his 2018 post, that within communism, “No longer do individuals have the right to work, earn, and create on their own. Instead, they become beholden to handouts from the government – turning individuals into serfs, and government into their master”. Due to this, it is understandable that Chytilova wanted to take a stand against this through her filmmaking.
In a 2018 article titled in search of authenticity: Vera Chytilova’s films from two eras, journalist Jan Culik confirms that Chytilova was the first woman allowed to study film at the Film and TV Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU). It is not clear the weight of her role as an editor within her filmography even to the point where there is some confusion as to whether she did edit the film herself. Whether she did or didn’t, the credited editor was Miroslav Hájek; however, Chytilova said, she wanted to give new meaning to her films with the editing (Frank, 2010). In 2001, BC Lim states that Daisies’ use of jump cuts, sudden changes in colour tone and unstable spatial relations gave the narrative an almost ‘incoherent sense of chronology.’ It challenged traditions of cinema in a way that reflected the overall message of the film which was around the subversion of her society, this disjointed style of editing supported Chytilova’s conceptual approach to the film which was based on destruction; thereby the form itself became destructive as well.
After its release, the film was even banned by authorities, apparently due to the depicted food wastage, the final message displayed on screen states, “This film Is dedicated to all those whose sole source of indignation is a trampled-on trifle.” This message serves as reminder to those enduring the Communist party that instead of worrying about the anti-social behaviour and destructive activities displayed in the film, they should instead be protesting against the Oppression they are facing. (Singer, 2015).
Daisies matters because it stands the test of time as a critique of the communist government in place at the time of production, it was a brave film in the way that it highlighted various social issues such as, feminism and existentialism. The fact that it is still viewed as a success in the world of cinema despite its initial ban makes it a testimony that political films can be made and resonate with filmmakers today.