Daisies (Sedmikrásky) is a 1966 Czechoslovak film written and directed by Věra Chytilová considered a milestone of the Nová Vlna movement. Made with the support of the state-sponsored film studio, it follows two teenage girls, both named Marie, played by Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová, who engage in strange pranks.
Daisies is known for its un-sympathetic characters, lack of a continuous narrative and abrupt visual style. Chytilová states that she structured Daisies to “restrict [the spectator’s] feeling of involvement and lead him to an understanding of the underlying idea or philosophy”. The film was banned within Czechoslovakia upon its initial release in 1966 until 1967 due to its depictions and imagery of wasting food, but in 1966 the film won the Grand Prix at the Bergamo Film Festival in Italy. The film also received the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association. Daisies cemented Chytilová’s career both nationally and internationally.
Daises is seen as a feminist film due to its attitude and active critique of male attitudes towards sex. However Chytilová did not see herself as a feminist filmmaker, but rather believes in individualism, stating that if a person does not believe in a particular set of conventions or rules then it is up to that individual to break them.
Věra Chytilová (1929 – 2014) was an avant-garde Czech film director, born in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia in 1929. She had a strict Catholic upbringing, which would later come to influence many of the moral questions presented in her films. While attending college, Chytilová initially studied philosophy and architecture, but abandoned these fields. She then worked as a draftsman, fashion model and as a photo re-toucher before working as a clapper girl for the Barrandov Film Studios in Prague. She then sought a recommendation from Barrandov Film Studios to study film production, but was denied. Undeterred by the rejection, she would later be accepted into the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU) at the age of 28. While attending FAMU she studied underneath renowned film director Otakar Vavra, graduating in 1962.
Upon graduation from FAMU both of Chytilová‘s short films had a theoretical release throughout Czechoslovakia. In 1963 Chytilová released her first feature film entitled Something Different. She is best known for her once highly controversial film Sedmikrásky (Daisies) – (1966). After Daisies the government made it very difficult for Chytilová to find work within Czechoslovakia, even though she was never officially classified as a ‘blacklisted’ director. Her follow up film Ovoce stromů rajských jíme (Fruit of Paradise, 1969) was her last film before the Soviet Union invasion of 1968. After the Soviet Union invasion it was virtually impossible for Chytilová to find work and she resorted to directing commercials under her husband’s name, Jaroslav Kučera.
In 1976, due to the low cinema attendance Chytilová was approached by the government to begin directing films through one of the state run production companies, Short Film Studios. At the same time the United States was assembling a ‘Year of Women’ Film Festival and contacted Chytilová to gain permission to screen Daisies as their opening film. Chytilová informed the festival that the only non-censored prints of the film could be found in Paris and Brussels. She also informed the festival that her government would not allow her to attend the festival, nor were they allowing her to direct films. The festival then began to apply international pressure upon the Czechoslovakian government by petitioning on Chytilová’s behalf. In accordance with this international pressure Chytilová wrote a letter directly to President Gustáv Husák detailing her career and her personal beliefs in socialism. Due to the success of the international pressure, and Chytilová’s personal appeal to President Husak, Chytilová began production of Hra o jablko” (“The Apple Game”, 1976). The Apple Game was completed and then was screened at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, and won the Silver Hugo and the Chicago International Film Festival. After the release of The Apple Game Chytilová was allowed to continue making films, but was continually met with controversy and heavy censorship by the Czechoslovakian government. Věra Chytilová’s last film was released in 2006, and she has taught directing at FAMU.
Chytilová described herself as a control freak and, “An overheated kettle that you can’t turn down”. Her ‘overheated’ attitude created difficulties for her to gain work within the Soviet Union controlled film industry. She was known as being actively critical of the Soviet Union, stating that “My critique is in the context of the moral principles you preach, isn’t it? A critical reflection is necessary”. She would routinely cause havoc and ‘hysterical scenes’ in order to attempt to make films that were loyal to her vision regardless of the heavy censorship that was routinely imposed. Chytilová embodied a unique cinematographic language and style that does not rely on any literary or verbal conventions, but rather utilizes various forms of visual manipulations to create meaning within her films.
Chytilová died on 12 March 2014 in Prague, surrounded by her family, after long-term health issues. She was 85.