SEDMIKRÁSKY (1966)

  • Director: Věra Chytilová
  • Writers: Screenplay by Věra Chytilová and Ester Krumbachová, Story by Věra Chytilová and Pavel Juráček
  • Starring: Jitka Cherhová and Ivana Karbanová
  • Accolades: 2019 BBC Top 100 Films Directed by Women (#6)
  • Where to Watch: Stream with subscription on HBO Max or The Criterion Channel, buy or rent on Apple TV

We’ve discussed some weird movies on this site, and I’m not saying Sedmikrásky (Daisies, in English) is the weirdest, but I think I find it the most confounding. It knows there’s a there there, but I’m not sure what the there is. Věra Chytilová, the director, called it “a necrologue about a negative way of life.” I suppose. For the Czech censors who had to approve the screenplay in advance, that “negative way of Life,” was probably supposed to be capitalism. Upon actually seeing the movie, they were far less sure, and the movie would be banned in its native country from 1967 until the fall of communism, on the basis that it depicted wantonness” and “food wastage.” It does in fact include those things.

Sedmikrásky consists of a loosely connected series of scenes starring two young women played by Jitka Cherhová and Ivana Karbanová, both named “Marie.” The movie is very aggressive that its goal with these two is not to make them likable. As one of them says (I’m never going to remember which character had which lines, not least because they have the same name), “everything in this world is spoiled, so we will be spoiled, too.” They spend the rest of the movie plowing through everything in their path with abandon, seeming without any thought except, “this is all dumb, so why should I take it seriously.” They go on dates with older men, but which they spend stuffing their faces and acting childish, even admonishing the men for trying to date them (“I’m still developing!” of the Maries chides one of the men). They go to a 1920s-ish Prague nightclub, get drunk, and get kicked out. One of the Maries goes home with one man, where he repeatedly declares his love for her. She disrobes, but then proceeds to insist on holding various framed pieces of his butterfly collection over her various parts, while repeatedly asking him if there’s any food. One of them tries to commit suicide by filling the apartment with gas, but is foiled because she leaves the window open. The other Marie then shows up, turns off the gas, and admonishes the other for being so wasteful.

In the final sequence, the girls come upon a ballroom filled with fancy food, drink, and desserts, seemingly waiting for dignitaries of some kind. The girls set up a “feast” and get into a foodfight. They are eventually caught, and we see them thrown into a lake and desperately trying to cling to a boat, vowing not to act spoiled anymore. On-screen text then says that the girls’ best attempt to undo their destruction “would have gone like this,” and we cut back to them in the ballroom robotically cleaning up and repeating what sound to me like communist aphorisms (“We’ll be happy because we work hard”). But then the chandelier falls on them and the film cuts to war footage of planes bombing, with text dedicating the film to “those who only get upset about a stomped-upon bed of lettuce.”

So there are parts of Sedmikrásky where I think I see what it’s going for. Certainly, it is preoccupied with the role of women in a male-dominated society. That women are placed into this infantlized role is emphasized by the way the Maries act infantalized. “Is this what you really want?” they seem to be asking their various paramours. Often the girls start giggling with each other the moment the men are off screen. This is all an act. Similarly, there is a recurring theme of the girls as dolls or marionettes. In the opening scene they have stiff movement, as if they’re puppets, and in a later scene they literally turn themselves into paper dolls, their heads and body parts floating independent of each other (not unlike some of the imagery we saw in House).

Unlike many of her contemporaries in the Czech artistic scene, Věra Chytilová stayed in the country even after the Soviet Invasion snuffed out the Prague Spring of 1968, but after this it was almost impossible for her to find work (again, all films had to be pre-approved by the state). In the meantime she directed TV commercials (which I gotta say, I did not realize were a thing under communism) under a pseudonym. Chytilová was eventually allowed to start directing movies again after international pressure in 1978 caused the Czech president at the time to personally declare her “blacklisting” over. She continued making movies through her death in 2006, including 1992’s Dědictví aneb Kurvahošigutntag, a title with according to Wikipedia translates into English as The Inheritance of Fuckoffguysgoodday.

Chytilová’s most famous film, however, remains Sedmikrásky, which the BBC recently ranked all the way up at #6 on its list of the 100 greatest films to have been directed by women, above many other movies that American audiences are probably much more familiar with. I’d explain this the same way I’d explain my “I don’t get it” response to large portions of this movie, which is that I think you sort of had to be there, to use a cliché. What I mean is, this is a very “mod” movie that is all about, not just anarchical disrespect for authority, but full-on acerbic hatred for the current group of people running things. No wonder it gave the Czech authorities ulcers. 

These feelings are not so out of place among younger generations today. However, while this is a gross generalization, Millennials have expressed their disappointment in their forebears through a mix of depression and angry social activism, Sedmikrásky does so by abandoning all sense of decorum. Where both generations start with “I’m angry because everything keeps getting worse and it’s the people in charge’s fault,” this movie’s stance of just burning social mores to the ground doesn’t quite ring true even among a lot of activist circles today. But maybe I’m way off base here, who knows.

Though it seems to center around two fairly consistent “characters,” Sedmikrásky is hardly a movie in the traditional sense. There’s no overarching “story,” or anything like that. In that sense it’s hard for me to compare to any particular genre or give you a better sense of whether you’d be interested or not. However, I do think there’s a place in the canon for odd ducks like this, particular ones examining what remain some very current general issues in this day and age, even if the specifics of living under a communist regime play more like historical curiosities to many of us.

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