Radical Feasting in Daisies
by Olivia Stoll
In Věra Chytilová’s surrealist comedy Daisies, two girls named Marie I and Marie II parade around in an endless search for pleasure. The Maries chase attention, sex, and adrenaline, but they adore nothing more than food. “I love eating”, Marie I proclaims. They frequently exploit old, predatory men to earn lavish dinners, which always end with the girls taking off at the train station. The girls continue their constant consumption in their apartment–their favorite snacks being particularly phallic. Marie II relishes in a giant jar of pickles while Marie I chops sausages and bananas with scissors. Chytilova could be contributing to the feminist themes with these choices, or it may be purely comedic. Either way, it's an entertaining image. In the final minutes, the girls stumble upon the motherload of all feasts (pictured here). They ferociously stuff their faces and throw cake across the room until it is a mound of broken glasses and soggy hors d’oeurves. Chytilova’s avant-garde filmmaking style and nontraditional approach to the plot make it difficult to understand everything going on in Daisies, and even more challenging to analyze thematically. However, beyond the chaos emerges anti-war messages and feminist commentaries depicted via the Maries’ relationship with food.
Banned by the Czech parliament within months after its release, Daisies is undeniably a political film. Chytilova pushes the audience to contextualize the film politically by including World War II (1939-45) footage in the opening credits. Czechoslovakia was under Russian Communist rule during the release of Daisies, and in some ways, Marie I and Marie II are stand-ins for power-hungry political leaders (i.e. Stalin and Lenin). The scene that most overtly demonstrates this symbolism is the final feast. The girls cause mass destruction in the dining hall while grossly indulging in stolen food and wine. “Was there any possible way to remedy the destruction” (1:10:00), asks the on-screen text over shots of the girls flailing helplessly in a river. “Even if they were given the chance, at best it would look like this” (1:10:50). The scene cuts to Marie I and Marie II attempting to put the dining hall back in order. They scoop the mushy remnants of food back onto the dirty trays and arrange shards of broken plates into poorly reconstructed circles. “But this is not a problem” Marie II whispers before the film implies they get crushed by a falling chandelier or blown up or both. It’s a bleak ending that alludes to the mass destruction of war and political greed.
Although the previous interpretation paints the girls as mostly evil, a feminist approach to reading Daisies would classify Marie I and Marie II as simply rebellious. They refuse to adhere to the patriarchal norms that dictate how women should behave, particularly around food. The men they exploit at restaurants are appalled with how much food the girls order and how proudly they stuff their faces. There’s a moment where Marie II prods Marie I’s bare stomach with a fork, “I don’t see any other meat around here, how about this?”, she says (00:34:55). Marie becomes the food, poking fun at the way that these men obsessively indulge in women like they are expensive meat. The whole scene plays over a voicemail from a rejected lover professing his feelings for an indifferent Marie I, which furthers the feminist message. The majority of Daisies is celebratory and careless, which aligns with the feminist interpretation. However, Chytilová is very particular about her political message and the most poignant scenes use feasting to convey radical perspectives. Despite the bleak messages, Daisies is a wonderfully unique, wild watch with food as the artistic subject of Chytilová’s surrealist filmmaking. You’ll never see another film quite like it.
Daisies. Dir. Věra Chytilová. 1966. HBO Max, https://www.hbomax.com/.