“It’s still revolutionary”: Věra Chytilová’s Daisies comes sixth in BBC poll of films by women

'Les Petites Marguerites', photo: Bontonfilm

The 1966 film Daisies by Věra Chytilová has come sixth in an extensive new BBC poll of the 100 greatest works by female directors. But what makes the surreal, anarchic Czechoslovak New Wave film such a classic? I discussed Daisies with journalist Hynek Pallas, who wrote a description of it for the BBC project.

Hynek Pallas,  photo: Sofie Sigrinn,  CC BY-SA 4.0
“It has a timelessness in terms of how it was made.

“It’s hilariously funny and revolutionary. Very few films made in the ‘60s have that lasting quality.

“If you look at classic films, they can have a lot of elements in them where you can understand ‘This was certainly revolutionary in 1966 – but it isn’t today’.

“But, in both good and bad ways, Daisies is still revolutionary today, because the norms that it confronts in society, where these two dolls come to life and revolt… it still has more than a ring of truth in today’s society.

“So I think that’s why it’s a classic film that still has a revolutionary message.”

You write for the BBC that Daisies might be seen as harmless fun now, but it was rather different in Communist Czechoslovakia.

“Yes. I think it can be seen as harmless fun, because a lot of the things that are expressed are part of the vocabulary of feminism today – quite obvious things, like patriarchy and so on.

“You could say these things in Western society in 1966, but you certainly couldn’t freely express in 1960s Czechoslovakia that communist society was a patriarchal, anti-feminist society.

“Because they themselves regarded the communist project as something that was pro-feminist.

“So in a sense it was even more controversial.”

How was Daisies received at the time it come out?

“There is of course a difference between how it was received in Czechoslovakia and in the West.

“In the West it took a while, but it became a feminist cult film.

“There were many directors, such as Jacques Rivette, who immediately were attracted to the film language, the anarchistic, surrealistic film, and borrowed a lot of elements from it.

“But it seems that Daisies was a film that became fairly well-known and then disappeared.”

'Daisies' | Photo: Bontonfilm
Several directors have multiple films on the BBC list, but Věra Chytilová doesn’t. Are there any other films by her that you think are particularly worthy of attention?

“Yes, I think she has a very interesting film history overall, because of her own and the country’s history.

“I would single out Panelstory, because it captures another part of Czech history, the panelák areas, which I think would be interesting for Western audiences, but also the themes that she delves into.

“But she had an interesting film history from even before she made Daisies.

“I think it’s also becoming more and more obvious in the West, because before you only had Fruits of Paradise [1970] and you had Daisies available.

“Now, because of several DVD companies, not least of which is Second Run in England, you have more and more of Věra Chytilová available – digitalised, with English subtitles, with essays.

“These contexts are very important, because for a long time in the West film audiences – as well as scholars and journalists – only regarded the Czechoslovak New Wave in connection with Miloš Forman or Ivan Passer.

“After 1990 this changed a lot with The Ear by Karel Kachyňa and all these films that suddenly were available.

“So film history had to be rewritten and since 1990 this has been ongoing.

Hynek Pallas’s description of Daisies can be read at number six here: www.bbc.com/culture/slideshow-gallery/20191125-the-25-greatest-films-directed-by-women

“The availability of Czechoslovak 1960s films is amazing, because it has completely changed the perception of what was done, how much was done and how fruitful the soil for filmmaking was.

“I think Věra Chytilová is interesting in the sense that you can’t just look at the film as being the director Věra Chytilová.

“You have those collaborators that she worked with who really were central to the films she made – and especially to Daisies.”