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at the Brattle through July 15

By Joel Haycock

CZECH films have been in vogue for several years now, for a variety of stylish reasons. (Political capital is surely a featured consideration; American critics have a habit of translating the Czech's frequent portrayal of stolid bureaucracy--intended as neutral moral backgroun to more intimate drama--as veiled protest against socialist rule). Most Czech films share an "unstylish", descriptive approach to reality, attempting to cast social themes in individualized dimensions (Milos Forman, Jiri Menzel). But a few filmmakers have made a radical break with previous Czech film, abandoning descriptive conventions for vivid stylization and a strong strain of philosophical abstraction. Chief among these are the art designer Ester Krumbachova and directors Jan Nemec and Ver Chytilova; Nemec's Report in the Party and the Guests and Chytilova's Daisies are its best representatives.

Daisies is a chronicle of the adventure of two young girls, both named Mary. Deciding, "if everything's spoiled, we'll be spoiled too," they set out to engorge the world, sponging lavish meals off of older men, then tricking their benefactors onto departing trains. Much of the film documents the Marys' coming and going between expensive restaurants and expensive ladies rooms. But they become bored with being successful parasites; they lie, they steal, seeking new excitement, "a worse kind of life." Finally they stumble upon an unattended banquet, which they utterly destroy. Here the film stops; they are seen drowning, calling for help against filmic extinction. The filmmaker, arbiter of their future, types out a message on the screen: "Even if they were given a chance, things would, at best, turn out like this." But they are given a chance, and suddenly are back at the ruined banquet, trying to set things alright. They fail; there has been no character change. As a chandelier crushes their bodies, bombs explode (things work out worse when they are given a chance) and the film ends.

On the surface, the two Marys might appear to be the protagonists in a Beckettian drama: their personalities are as vacuous, as interchangeable; their dialogue has the same tentative, despairing quality. ("We are happy," one Mary says. "We are really and truly happy. Aren't we?" Are we really pretending?" Silence. "We are really and truly happy.") But though the Marys in Daisies share with Didi and Gogo a fundamental lack of human resonance, Chytilova's purpose has little in common with Beckett's lofty pursuit of silence. Rather Daisies is a meditation on the personal and social consequences of conspicuous consumption. Consumption is here equated with destruction (a fundamentally schizoid position--unable to deal with the world, the schizoid individual incorporates it, destroying for him the significance of the outer world and replacing it with a libidinalized inner universe); the Mary's greedy voracity ("I love to eat," says one), stemming from their schizoid positions, fragments their already fragmented lives, and finally destroys them; they, in turn, ravage (through incorporation) the world.

CHYTILOVA conveys this fractionalism not through camera movement or frame composition, but rather through decor and the plastic material itself. The film skips from color to black and white, to harsh grain, loud color tones, and a wide variety of tints, often making several changes within a shot. Their apartment, the creation of Krunbachova, is a patchwork of high fashion, pop art, and fin de siecle decorativism, defining their character with hundreds of faces clipped from magazine advertisements. Chytilova has further employed various complex animation techniques and frequent single framing to stress the discontinousness of her subjects experience. In one sequence, the girls cut each other up with scissors; the screen itself splits into infintesimal parts.

These splintered existences, defined both by the processing and their apartment, are compared in one scene to that of a Czech farmer. He is seen in long shot (one of the film's few long shots) surrounded by his home, his field, and his dog, at one with the environment. (In contrast, the few long shots of the Marys are always chosen to emphasize the unreality of their lives; for instances, one shot is of Mary standing in the middle of a field by a tree full of obviously plastic fruit). Hopelessly fragmented, the Marys cannot relate to a whole environment--the farmer doesn't hear their calls. Later, a group of cyclists pass between them as if they weren't there.

Perception is a specific form of relationship; unable to relate to a whole environment, they cannot perceive one. Deprived of dynamic, sexual relationship is first reduced to objective equivalents, then consumed: while a lover knocks unanswered at the door, they slice up first a sausage, then a banana, then an egg, and eat them. Hence when the two Marys arrange broken pieces of a plate in an effort to restore the banquet, they do not recognize their failure to return the system to its continuous state; that's the why they see the world itself--in pieces. Therefore they can have no world view, no morality, no fixed or whole perceptual reference (prerequisite to both philosophy and morality). They steal, they lie, they consume, because they can perceive no reason not to. No morality, "no objection."

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