I do not know much about Czech movies or specifically the Czech New Wave movement, but I know something about feminist filmmaking. And Daisies is definitely a feminist film, albeit a weird, sometimes incomprehensible one. But what, exactly makes it feminist?
First, there's the entire premise. Our media culture is just now, in the beginning of the 21st Century, getting hip to the idea that people enjoy stories about women. Director Věra Chytilová, in making a film about two young women trying to figure themselves and life out made a feminist film. Daisies forces the viewer to seriously consider the minds and lives of women long before it was a Hollywood trend or quota. Having two female main characters with male characters who are basically afterthoughts is undeniably feminist.
One aspect that I thought was interesting was how Chytilová makes things that are generally scoffed at as being “girly” the focus of the movie. Of course, we have two young women. Young women are not often taken very seriously. High-pitched, girlish giggles make up a large part of their conversations and make them seem vapid. They are interested in fashion and dress girlishly. Images of flowers and butterflies are throughout the film, both within the action of scenes and as quickly strobing photographs. So not only is the film about women, it’s aggressively about women and all things girly and feminine. But the focus is their goal to figure out life—one of the loftiest journeys in human history.
The total lack of a traditional plot structure may also make it feminist. This was something especially popular during the feminist film wave of the 1960s—the idea is that rigid structure is male. Movie plots, especially pre-1960s movies have very specific and fairly unchanging narrative structures [think of the movies that MGM churned out from the 1930s though the early 1950s]. If you follow this idea through, then a lack of structure—a plot, in this case—makes a movie feminist by going against the patriarchal grain. I’m a little iffy on that idea, but if you’ve ever seen a female-centered film like this one that makes you think, “What the fuck?” this lack of structure equals feminist philosophy was probably the driving force behind it.
An inescapable element of the film is food. Food is everywhere in this movie. The women are absolutely gluttonous, and their eating is filmed sensuously. I have thought a lot about it, and while there’s a lot I don’t understand, I think that the food symbolism is much more complex and layered than anything else in the movie. There are the obvious symbols: the scene in which they are snipping sausages with scissors, eating them voraciously and also eating hard-boiled eggs. It doesn’t take a genius to pick up on the phallic + fertility symbols there.
But what about the rest? In one scene one of the girls invites herself to a table where the other is dining with a man, and proceeds to eat course after course before getting to dessert and consuming an impressive amount of cake. She remarks that the other is not eating because she’s afraid of getting fat but in later scenes both of them are shown eating a great deal.
I think the contrast is interesting, though. The giggling, the makeup, the fact that these women are conventionally attractive combined with the distinctly unfeminine way and amount that they eat. Food is nurturing and life-sustaining, which is also what women are expected to be. But women are also expected to abstain from food lest it make us unattractive. Is the food in the film meant to demonstrate that complicated relationship between women and food?
Also, it is only after they come across the feast and proceed to not just eat the food, but destroy it that they realize they don’t want to be bad. Thave have done more than satiate themselves—they’ve gone overboard. They behave destructively throughout the film, but it isn’t until they see the results of their actions [the ruined feast] that they come to the conclusion that they cannot be bad.
I do not claim to fully understand this movie. Although I am a feminist, my taste runs more highly-structured MGM movie than experimental films like this. But I do think this is an important film to watch if one wants to understand feminist filmmaking.