Dir: Vera Chytilova
Gen: Looking at Women
aisies (1966) is a collage film made by the Czech New Wave director Vera Chytilova. The film is widely celebrated as “Dadaist, Surrealist [and] feminist” due to its frenetic editing, playful cinematic techniques and non-linear narrative structure, but the triumph of Chytilova’s film is her creation of "an entirely new”, feminine “film language” (James 2014, p.216; Culik 2018, p.198-218). Whilst
Chytilova “did not believe in feminism”, it is clear that her bold and poetic use of collage in Daisies offered an alternative to the “linearity” of traditionally masculine narrative cinema (James 2014, p.216; Culik 2018, p.198-218).
Chytilova’s film explores what the psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray calls the “feminine imaginary”, which is “characterised by plurality, non-linearity, fluid identity etc.”; that is to say, Chytilova’s films can be feminist without being connected to what she deemed the hierarchical (capitalist) feminism of the West (Whitford 1986, p.4). In a country in which men and women were purported to be equals, Feminism (with a capital F) simply “oppose[d] a female truth to male truth” (Ibid, p.5).
In contrast, Daisies challenged the very concept of truth. As Jonathan Owen underlines in Avant-Garde to New Wave: Czechoslovak Cinema, Surrealism and the Sixties (2011):
“one of the greatest virtues of the Czechoslovak New Wave is commonly considered to be its ‘realism’…the New Wave’s central achievement, and its most subversive aspect was its ushering in of a new truthfulness after the distortions and mendacity of the Socialist Realist films made in the previous decade. The buzzwords of ‘truth’, ‘truthfulness’, ‘authenticity’ and so on recur throughout cinema-related articles and interviews from this period.”.
(Owen, Avant-Garde to New Wave, 104)
The films of the Czech New Wave were writing a new truth for a new generation, and in Daisies Chytilova proposed that the power to create this new reality lay in making “differently”, outside of a “culture dominated” by what Luce Irigaray calls the “male imaginary” (Whitford 1986, p.3). It was only by using new tools that Chytilova would find a new solution.
Therefore, like Irigaray, who has been called a “theorist of change”, it is clear that Chytilova was a director “of change, seeking to define the conditions under which change could take place” (Ibid.). To do so, Chytilova returned to square one, “utili[sing] specific strategies of defamiliarisation…including metaphor, exaggeration and the ‘laying bare’ of technique (in which techniques stand revealed as techniques)” to illustrate that all realities are performed, and thus that new realities need only a stage and willing actors to exist (Owen 2011, p.105).
This is exemplified by the jarring Brechtian performances of Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová in Daisies which, in sight of their Czechoslovak context, illuminate both the theatrical nature of life under the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party and the doll-like image of woman that dominated (and still dominates) cultural production.
In the opening scene, both Maries move in unison, speak in broken, mechanical speech and are accompanied by a series of comedic sound effects, to the extent that their characters appear to be “puppet-like figures” rather than real women (Owen 2011, p.102). Their performances blur the boundary between the real and the performed, critiquing the authoritarian control of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia and the authenticity of socio-cultural representations of women.
Consequently, Chytilova’s film is able to resist the “unity, teleology, linearity [and] self-identity” of the “masculine imaginary” because it asks the viewer to take a leap into the unknown, and to end perhaps dissatisfied in the knowledge that they must find their own narrative within the surreal collage of events that take place in Daisies (Whitford 1986, p.4).
Indeed, the narrative structure and collage editing of Daisies puts into action what french feminist theory terms “difference”, quite literally showing the “difference” between two scenes, frames or images in the film through juxtaposition (Ibid, p.5). Daisies is feminist in its very construction. In keeping with Irigaray’s feminism, Daisies is not “governed by opposition (which is hierarchical)” but by “difference (which is not)” (Ibid.). What makes Daisies a feminist film is not its woman (not male) centred narrative per se, but its interest in the creation and perpetuation of performed identities. As Chytilova stated, “I am interested in the subjugation that women have created for themselves”, and thus in the potential that is unleashed when we allow ourselves to imagine and create beyond what we think is possible, certain and real (Culik 2018, p. 198- 218).
Where to watch
Culik, J. (2018) “In search of authenticity: Věra Chytilová's films from two eras.” Studies in Eastern European Cinema 3: 198-218.
James, P. (2014) “Vera Chytilova.” Studies in European Cinema 5: 216-218.
Owen, J. (2011) “Spoiled Aesthetics: Realism and Anti-Humanism in Vera Chytilova’s Daisies (1966).” In Avant-Garde to New Wave: Czechoslovak Cinema, Surrealism and the Sixties, 99-128. New York: Berghahn Books.
Whitford, M. (1986) “Luce Irigaray and the Female Imaginary.” Radical Philosophy 43: 3-8.
Irigaray, Luce. 1977. Ce sexe qui n’en est pas un. Paris: Minuit.
Irigaray, Luce. 1974. Speculum, de l’Autre Femme. Paris: Minuit.
Cixous, Hélène. “Castration or Decapitation?” Signs 7 (1981): 5-15.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
KATHRYN CUTLER MACKENZIE
Kathryn is a fourth year student of a joint degree in History of Art and Art Practice at The University of Edinburgh. Her interest in feminist cinema comes from her belief in political, cultural and social equity, a set of values that she says have often felt uncomfortable alongside popular feminist movements such as "fourth wave" or Taylor Swift "girl gang" feminisms. Kathryn has found that by understanding the roots of female "types", consolidated through literature, cinema and art, she has been able to understand how they are constructed and how her own sense of femininity and womanhood differ.
ABOUT NEON EYE
Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.