The (counter) cultural revolution of the 1960s arrived, progressed and manifested itself in fits and starts, bursting onto international cinema screens with 1960’s À Bout de Souffle, heralding the confirmation of Cahiers du Cinéma’s La Nouvelle Vague, already spreading slowly but irresistibly across the continent from there. In the UK, 1959 had produced Room at the Top and Look Back in Anger, and further afield Miloš Forman would soon make his name in Czechoslovakia with Hoří, má Panenko (1967). Less celebrated in this country, but equally revolutionary there, Forman’s countrywoman Věra Chytilová was banned domestically for a decade for her milestone of the Nová Vlna, Sedmikrásky (aka Daisies), now being issued on remastered Blu-ray by Second Run.
The eponymous ‘daisies’ - ironically Bellis perennis, ‘eternally beautiful’, in Latin - are two girls whose experiences the film documents, across a brief hour-and-a-quarter. Like the flower (the name Daisy is an abstraction of Margaret, although an alternative name for the daisy in the UK is Mary’s Rose; the protagonists are both known as Marie according to the script, albeit not on-screen), the girls are pretty but ephemeral, capricious and uninvited. Daisies pre-empts punk as much as it anticipates the Summer of Love, and it’s a destructive, unpredictable commentary on the regime that would lead to the brief blossoming of the Prague Spring in 1968.
The Maries, who share an apartment but get no further backstory than that, devise an arrangement whereby the slightly prettier, brunette (Cerhová) seduces older men, getting herself invited to dinner dates at which the slightly madder, blonde (Karbanová) arrives to ruin the meal (having each partaken of it) and send the prospective lothario running for the train (it’s always a train). Both girls are shown to be behaving on instinct rather than with aforethought, and an unplanned trip to the countryside leaves them questioning the fact of their own existence. Shortly afterwards, they find themselves at the venue for an imminent government dinner, and tear the dining hall to pieces, gorging on the food and drink as they do so.
It’s a symbolic film comprised of deliberately inconsistent artifice both in its look and sound (the score is largely light jazz-based, and the film flips from colour to various monochromes both during and between scenes), an approach that serves a narrative which never seeks coherency. And as much as it predicts a revolution, Daisies also forewarns of a subsequent return to the status quo - and its conclusions are ultimately as damning upon its heroes as they are on its intended targets.
This is a terrific Blu-ray edition, however, with a raft of worthwhile extras and a picture that’s lovely and sharp - but not so cleaned up as to undermine the feature’s authenticity.
Extras: trailer, two retrospective commentaries, Journey: a 2004 film portrait of director Vĕra Chytilová
DAISIES (SEDMIKRÁSKY) (1966) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: VĔRA CHYTILOVÁ / SCREENPLAY: VĔRA CHYTILOVÁ / STARRING: JITKA CERHOVÁ, IVANA KARBANOVÁ, MARIE ČEŠKOVÁ, JIŘINA MYŠKOVÁ, MARCELA BŘEZINOVÁ, JULIUS ALBERT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW