Re-writing History: Writer-Director Francis Lee on unsung queer romance
23 February 2021
A few years have passed since Francis Lee came to the Edinburgh International Film Festival, but he...
Opening and closing with a bang, Věra Chytilová’s seminal surrealist masterpiece reeks of satire. Moving from archive footage of machinery and war to the opening decision of the Maries to “be bad” takes less than a few minutes, and even the inciting incident, if you can call it that, is a riff on Eve’s consumption of the forbidden fruit. So much ground is covered by images before We, and Marie, are struck in the face by colour and enter a post-communist rendition of Oz, or in other words, Czechoslovakia.
Populated largely by dining halls, train tracks, and the strangest interior bedroom design the world has ever seen, Daisies is one of the most recognised works in the canon of experimental filmmaking. Věra Chytilová witnessed her contemporaries creating, what we now understand as the Czech New Wave, and set out to play Monopoly on a Chess Board. To hell with masculine monochromatic social realist dramas, you can satire the bourgeois attitude by having fun after all.
The Maries are intentionally imperfect protagonists, they creak when they move, and they move to wreak havoc. The film follows a simple thesis: the girls' decide to be bad, then they are, until they have to atone for their sins. The justification for each moment comes from that sole idea. The Maries are bad; therefore, they toy with men for their amusement, therefore, we see them cut phallic imagery to cook as a man confesses his attraction to one of the Maries. The power of Daisies comes from how much the image informs the story, rather than the more conventional reverse. The Maries act in colour, in monochrome, in sepia, in fast motion, even cut up into pieces. None of this is explained by a narrative, but rather, the audience infers their own meaning. We may have had arguments that feel like you are cutting yourself to pieces. This is how that would look, and isn’t it so wonderfully silly?
Of course, Daisies isn’t entirely beautiful nonsense. A commentary on morality rings throughout and is explored explicitly through food. The Maries are hungry and relish in it, the climactic scene of the film even being the Maries cardinal sin of gratuitously destroying a banquet, all of this excess waste, while the film’s original audience could not hope for anything near their illegally acquired luxury. This, amongst “depicting the wanton” led to the film being banned only a couple of years following its release. But Daisies explicitly tells you that the Maries are bad, their actions are ‘wrong’, aren’t they? In years since, the film has received much acclaim for its depiction of how free the Maries are. They mock men because the men are pigs, and they eat because they are hungry. This world hasn’t been kind to the Maries. It is boring, and they are bored.
So, it brings the question: in this world, why try and be good?
Written by Jacob Gandy, member of our EIFF Youth Advisory Group.
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