Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Daisies (1966)

Sedmikrásky aka Daisies
Director: Vera Chytilová
Czechoslovakia 1966
74 min
Starring: Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová, among others.

Trivia: Was banned by Czech authorities, since it was considered "depicting the wanton" in a Communist country.

Nobody understands Marie I and Marie II - They don't even understand who is who.

This film may be difficult to review, since it has no linear story whatsoever and the only characters have no history, future or meaning - they don't even have their own names, they are both named Marie (Cerhová and Karbanová - I dare you to figure out who is the blonde and who is the brunette, I tried and failed). But I will do my best to write a review, since this is an awesome movie. People will disagree violently with me, because this is a film you either love or hate.

Director Vera Chytilová.

The film begins with a montage of world war film clips, presumably from WWII. What is important to remember when viewing this film is the politics of the 1960's, which the opening sequence surely wants to remind us of. The previous two generations of the 1960's youth had experienced a world war each, and the 1960's did not look any more hopeful. It was the Cold War and Communism a threat that needed to be fought - Czechoslovakia has been taken over by a communist regime in 1948, and the film movement that came to be called the Czechoslovak New Wave was a response to this. As will become apparent when taking a closer look on Daisies! (Note that this film was made two years prior to the "Prague Spring" in 1968, Czechoslovakia's liberalization period.)

With the circumstances hastily cleared up, it's time to go on with the film. After the opening sequence we are introduced to the main characters, Marie and Marie. While sunbathing they talk about how nobody understands them, and how the world has gone bad. When they move their arms and legs squeak like rusty machinery. The squeaks only stops when they get the brilliant idea that if the world is bad, then they don't need to care about anything - they can do whatever they want without concern for the consequences.

I have an inkling that the squeaky machinery sounds might be a reference to the Soviet people, that en masse are like... machinery, doing whatever Big Brother tells them is for the good of the country. But I may be wrong. (Oh yes, the movie and its weirdness has only begun. Time to get nerdy and frustratingly interpretive!)

Next, Marie slaps the other Marie, and they fall down onto a flowery field with a lone fruit tree. They jump like rabbits, dance and behave like children. Kind of cute children, of course. The cool thing with this sequence is the transition to the next scene, via a weird eye-line match in the middle of a dialog. Just watch:

Why does it have to be more difficult than that? Classic Hollywood editing is sooo 1950's!

Marie and Marie start doing random things without caring about what other people think about them, and they quickly get more and more extreme. They begin with dating old men with doubtable intentions, only to lure them on trains by themselves. They snatch food and wine from restaurant tables, stuff their mouths full with desserts and as a whole weird people out.

If you didn't already notice - the editing and aesthetics of the film follow the same whimsical pattern as the girls. Going from black and white to color, to sepia and different coloring of the black and white films à la tinted silent film. None of the screenshots from the film have been manipulated in any way - the film just says "f*** you" to all traditional editing, like most New Wave films do in one way or the other.

[Yes, I know that I usually write the word "fuck" without those silly stars, but the CMBA thought that my readers may have difficulties understanding the content of my posts using naughty words like that. You know, there are nicer words to use! Well, if I need to self censor like it's fucking 1935 and the hight of the Hays Code era - fuck you. I believe my readers have intelligence enough to understand my posts, ain't I just naïve?]

We'll have a little phallus cutting on that:

There are some reoccurring themes in Daisies. The snipping of phallic symbols is one thing, scissors another, and apples yet another. What they are supposed to mean can be interpreted a hundred different ways, but to me the first thing is (quite obviously) an act of feminism, something that too was controversial in Czechoslovakia at the time. My first thought about the scissor theme is that it could be self-referential to the New Wave style, of cutting films to millions of pieces in a controversial way of editing. About the apples... I don't know. The symbol of wisdom?

The ending of the film is really fun to analyze. The climax begins with the Maries finding a banquet hall full of extravagant dishes - the ultimate symbol of the bourgeoisie society. They start to feast on the food, using different plates for everything and drinking liquor from several glasses at the time. It ends up with them having a food fight, dancing on the tables and crashing all the tableware.

The scene cuts to them drowning in a lake, and the informational text "What had to happen happened". They hang on to some oars, shouting to the men on the boat that they are drowning because they are depraved. "Can the evil be repaired?"  They beg for their lives, saying that they will be good from now on.

[My interpretation: "What had to happen happened" may be a sneer to the classic Hollywood theme of a naughty woman having to pay for her wrongs toward the end of the film, by either sacrificing herself, get killed or reform. And obviously these girls have been bad, and needs to be put into place.]

"If we were to give them a second chance, this is what would happen."
The film cuts back to the banquet, crashed and filthy. The Maries tiptoe around with newspaper clothing (see screenshots), cleaning up the mess while chanting that everything will be fine, they are so nice and to the right thing when they clean up their mess, everything will be the same.

[Possible interpretation: I read somewhere that the newspapers and the chanting could symbolize the brainwashing messages to the people under a Communist regime: you will be happy if you work, you will be happy if you do good for your country.]

 As you can see, the result is not that good. But the girls keep cleaning up, trying to be good.

[My interpretation: What would happen is someone managed to quiet a revolution, for example a feminist revolution? No matter how hard they tried to get everything back to what it was, it could never be. When women has started to think for themselves and revolt, they will likely not forget all about it. A broken plate can never look like it did before.]

 So, what happens when a person has been a good citizen, worked all his/her life and never thought about him/herself?

They die. That's the payment you get.
The last message to the viewer is:

"This film is dedicated to all the people indignant only when their salads are trampled."

Well, is that a message to a country on the verge of a revolt, or not? Daisies is an awesome movie. Watch it.
 And don't feel bad if you haven't watched an Eastern European film before. I haven't either, but that will probably change. (If not by my own will, by being forced to in film school.)

And... cut!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fucking unbelievable

Well, Sweden's election is over, and it looks like 5,7% of the votes were given to a nationalistic party with roots in White Power movements - Sweden Democrats. I am ashamed of my country. I can't believe that so many people voted for them. This will take some time for me to handle. I will be back with my usual cheery self as soon as I can, but right now I just want to kick someone.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I love Lucille Ball

I have soon watched the whole first season of I Love Lucy (1951-1952). I am so going as Lucille Ball this Halloween! How I will manage that hairdo is a future problem.

The Swedish election finishes this Sunday (even NYT have written about the election drama), and then I will probably be able to concentrate once again on my classic movie passion. I'm even too distracted to study.  Even my mother complains about me talking more politics than television and radio unitized. I guess I'm black or white: either throwing up in the gutter outside Blue Oyster, or boring people to death with unemployment issues.

Until then: lo and behold my Photoshop skills. I look like a hot emo girl! I experimented with some Clara Bow lips, between television debates.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Claude Chabrol dead at 80

Once again, this thing about honoring the icons first after they have passed away...

Claude Chabrol died this morning, Sunday, in Paris at the age of 80. He was among Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Jacques Rivette one of the most prominent directors ("auteurs") of the French New Wave. Like most of them, he also was a film critic in the famous Cahiers du Cinéma.

Chabrol in 1959.

Chabrol with a pipe. The perfect grandfather.

Although known as making more "mainstream New Wave" films (how that is even possible, I have no idea), he was among the first to kick start that movement. In 1958 he made his directorial debut with Le Beau Serge, a Hitchcock-influenced crime drama that paved the way for his upcoming films, a style sometimes referred to as "Chabrolesque". Next year he made the celebrated Les Cousins (1959) and the Jean-Paul Belmondo vehicle À double tour (Leda, 1959). He continued making almost one film a year until the day he died.

About something completely else: don't mix too many kinds of alcohol. You will end up like me, the night between Friday and Saturday - thrown out of a gay pub, lying in the gutter helplessly throwing up more liquid than your stomach possibly could ever hold.

God bless the homosexuals, by the way. Never have I had so many kind men to hold my hand while puking in a toilet, all the while being told to be perfectly comfortable since I'm not the least attractive. The nicest one told me that he liked his men masculine and rich, and that he thought he was at least as handsome as not to have to pay the entrance fee himself. I think I fell a little in love. He went on:
- Now honey, what the hell is a married woman doing at a place like this?
- *sob* Socializing... buuuaaaahhhh!
Viva glamour boys, I love you. But I will never drink alcohol again. Also, I will never ask gay men for cigarettes again - I hate mint flavored cigarettes. Now I will sleep a bit more with a bucket nearby.

Picture from Friday night.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pre-glamour Greta Garbo

The picture above is obviously Greta Garbo after her Hollywood make over. But how did she look as a curvaceous Greta Gustafsson appearing in Swedish commercials, early 1920's? The answer to that is to be found in the archives of Swedish Television.

If you have trouble recognizing her among the other models, she is the one with eyebrows painted with a piece of charcoal. Hideous. Sometimes a physical make over half a world away, obviously, can bring out the inner beauty of the Scandinavian womanhood.

In this 2:45 long (or short) clip, we see Greta "Garbo" Gustafsson in three different milieus: As a fashion model for the brand PUB, at the terrace of the Strand Hotel and at a picnic in the sweet green grass of the North.

The clip is silent, so you can always hum "Yes, We Have No Bananas" to yourself to liven it up a bit.

And yes: the Swedish word for "The End" really is "Slut"... It has amused many an international audience since the beginning of time. Or the beginning of  Swedish film, that is.