In the late 1960s, an artistic revolution was brewing in Czechoslovakia. The Czech New Wave of filmmaking formed as an act of political resistance against the socially conservative Communist government, but it burned bright and fast - lasting barely a decade before censorship brought it to a halt. Věra Chytilová's 1966 film Daisies, perhaps the movement's best-known film, defines punk rock filmmaking years before the "punk" ethos came into being. Anarchic, playful, and anything but preachy, Daisies is the rare overtly political film that's designed not to be taken seriously.
Daisies' credits open on ominous shots of gears turning and bombs exploding, but immediately veer into outright comedy. The film follows two teenage girls, both named Marie, who have nothing but mischief on their minds. They set up dates with rich older men who either hide their horniness with unnerving politeness, or all but openly drool over them. They return their advances with nonsensical conversations, order enormous amounts of food, and at the end of the night - the promise of sex still intact! - jump off trains headed home with the men still on them. In between, the two Maries do everything society tells demure young girls not to do. They play with their food, trash their apartment, and not-so-subtly cup up sausages and bananas while men profess their love over the phone. Nicki Minaj would be proud.
Daisies' total disregard for conventional narrative, characterization or visual continuity mirrors its contempt for traditional social norms. The film casually cuts between takes in the middle of scenes, even switching from black and white to artificially tinted reds, blues and greens. While playing with scissors, the two Maries' heads and limbs float around their apartment, unfazed by their apparent disembodiment. Some might find Daisies' playful experimentation deeply irritating, but it's never self-indulgent or provocative for its own sake. You can accuse Chytilová of having no attention span - and it's true! - but she knows exactly what she's doing.
The girls' adventures culminate in suitably absurd fashion, when they come across a feast laid out for communist leaders. Having finally eaten their fill, they lay across the tables, satisfied - and then the film hard cuts to World War II footage of bombs exploding, and desolate towns. Daisies closes with this all-time mic drop of an end quote: "This film is dedicated to all those whose sole source of indignation is a trampled-on trifle." It draws the prior 76 minutes of silliness into sharp relief. There's no denying that Daisies' girls are spoiled brats, but fictional male characters regularly get away with far worse. So why are they still sympathetic?
Chytilová mocks the uniquely heterosexual male fear that women are all-powerful, manipulative, and ultimately unknowable. Marie I and II aren't real people; they're exaggerated drag performances of womanhood, playing out a feminist revenge fantasy where not a drop of blood is spilled. The film never asks you to identify with them; you're in on the satire, or you're not. You're either laughing along with the girls, or you're the stodgy, conservative men they're trolling.
Daisies embodies not just the spirit of punk rock, but riot grrrl, the early-'90s movement that unapologetically injected some much-needed femininity into the male angst of hardcore punk. The film ends with images of the apocalypse, but far from being nihilistic, it's fueled by a lust for life. Turns out one of 1966's most psychedelic, provocative films is one of its most progressive, too.