This blogpost was originally written to explain Gayle's LRB Screen Bookseller's Choice, but since the whole thing was inspired by reading Dana Spiotta's Innocents and Others, we thought we may as well recycle it in order to remind you that you need to buy tickets to our event with her on Thursday 17 August. Book tickets here.
I decided on Daisies (Sedmikrásky), Věra Chytilová’s anarchic New Wave romp, for my Bookseller's Choice screening before I'd even seen it. A few months ago, I was reading Innocents and Others, Dana Spiotta's brilliant new novel that follows the friendship and careers of Meadow Mori and Carrie Wexler, two women who grow up together in Hollywood and who both go on to become film makers. Many films are mentioned in the book, both real and fictional - you can read more about the films that inspired Spiotta here - but one description stood out for me:
The "plot" concerns the two girls running amok. They go out to dinner with middle-aged rich men. Then they eat hilariously large portions of food, horrifying and sometimes splattering the older men with various kinds of food spray. "I love to eat," one girl exclaims, and Carrie could not help but laugh. After the girls eat, drink, and smoke to disgusting excess, they ditch their dates at the train staion. In between dates, they burn things, steal, trip people, wear bikinis, crank-call people ("Hello? Die, Die, die.") and lounge around in cutesy-girl outfits. All of this was very funny, but it was the end of the film that floored Carrie. The final prank shows the two women demolishing an overladen banquette table by shoving food into their mouths in an orgy of slurps and food-crushing noises and images. Next the film abruptly cuts to the girls atop the table, stomping across the plates and glasses and carcasses in high heels, smashing it all. It was absurd and dizzying in a very specific Eastern European way. But the final scene was like nothing Carrie had seen before. The girls return in bondage suits made from newspaper, and in a frenzy of fast motion they reset the table with the broken glasses and dishes, chanting in unison whispers, "We are good and hardworking. We shall be happy and everything will be wonderful." Carrie yelped with delight…
Women eating, greedily and unashamedly, is something you hardly ever see in films. (Greedily and shamefully, yes, constantly, every time a female character reaches for a tub of ice cream as a cure for rejection.) Such is their rarity, that any scene in which a women eats joyfully immediately becomes a favourite: Tilda Swinton and those prawns in I Am Love (far too elegant to be greedy, but oh, the pleasure of eating!), and Adèle devouring spaghetti bolognese, joyfully, messily, in Blue is the Warmest Colour.
The description of Daisies in Innocents and Others reminded me of another favourite: Chantal Akerman's 1984 short J'ai Faim, J'ai Froid, which follows two teenage runaways through Paris at night, as they eat almost constantly.
Daisies shares some of the odd, mischeivous humour of Akerman's short, but takes things to another level entirely. It’s a gorgeous, dazzling thing to watch, making use of all kinds of visual trickery, from vivid coloured filters to split screen beheadings; and the costume design by Ester Krumbachová, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Chytilová, remains gloriously fresh looking even after nearly fifty years.
But there's more here than just the playful and mischeivous. Daisies was banned following the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, and while the film's sense of joyful anarchy might have been enough to deserve that - one of the main reasons given for the ban was the depiction of food wastage - it's the bleak ambiguity at the centre of the film that makes it feel truly subversive and allows it to remain such thrilling and unsettling viewing today.