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Camera Obscura 16.2 (2001) 37-77
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Dolls in Fragments: Daisies as Feminist Allegory
Bliss Cua Lim
As director Vera Chytilová put it, "Each of my films has met a certain resistance on the part of authority." 1 Daisies [Sedmikrásky] (Czechoslovakia, 1966) was no exception. Denounced by state deputies in Czechoslovakia for "hav[ing] nothing in common with our Republic, socialism, and the ideals of communism," 2 Daisies was initially banned and only eventually allowed public screening, and Chytilová herself was barred from filmmaking from 1969 to 1975.
The product of a collaboration between three premier filmmakers of the Czech New Wave (Chytilová, Ester Krumbachová, and Jaroslav Kucera), 3 Daisies turns upon the picaresque exploits of two beautiful girls, Marie 1 and Marie 2 (played by two nonactors, Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová, respectively), whose destructive antics are rendered in an episodic narrative that ends by punishing them for their many infractions and inability to reform. In interviews and historical documents, Chytilová has always maintained that she intended Daisies to be a coded critique of its protagonists. In her view, the socialist bureaucrats who denounced it for celebrating its depraved heroines [End Page 37] --and for food wastage--were misreading the film. Far from upholding the two Maries as role models, Chytilová claims the film is a morality play, a "grotesque" or distorted comedy that condemned its unruly heroines on ethical grounds. 4
I begin by sketching the debate between Chytilová and the government detractors whose severe disapproval kept this brilliant, singular director from film production for six years. Working within the constraints of state-supervised film production in the Czech New Wave of the 1960s, Chytilová fashioned a "properly revolutionary" critique of the insipid bourgeois existence of the fashion model, a theme that she had pursued in a prior film. Despite Chytilová's insistence that the film be seen as a moral allegory critical of its heroines, socialist censors took issue with the film's depiction (and seeming celebration) of dissipated youth.
The crux of my argument is this: Daisies can be read multivalently as enabling both a critique of the heroines' excesses (corresponding to the state-approved screenplay and Chytilová's declared intentions) and a latent feminist delight in the heroines' ability to effect reversals in the patriarchal order. This study espouses a counterreading of Daisies that corresponds neither to the director's account nor to the censors' ill-considered objections to the film. While my allegorical reading of the film might be at variance with declared authorial intent, it remains appreciative of that strong chord of defiance in Daisies that government officials were quick to impugn and Chytilová eager to gainsay. My counterreading of the film discerns, beneath Daisies's apparent condemnation of its heroines, a feminist allegory in which the doll metaphor is retooled as a celebration of female recalcitrance.
The second and third sections explore Daisies's extensive use of the doll as an allegorical device that encompasses the heroines' various allusions to marionettes, fashion mannequins, and youthful feminine artifice. The discrepancy between Chytilová's avowed intentions and the socialist censors' response to Daisies--the film appears to excoriate the Maries on the one hand while celebrating them on the other--is owing to the double-tiered signification of allegory, a mode whose obliqueness has often [End Page 38] appealed to artists working in the context of political repression. Daisies's use of the doll-heroine accounts for the film's profound ambivalence toward its dual protagonists: the doll is the perfect satirical device with which to caricature women so vacant and self-indulgent they are practically living dummies; yet the doll is also a concrete instantiation of an overtly patriarchal ideal of femininity. For all its appropriateness to a project that seeks to find fault with two wayward girls, the doll metaphor proves to be a double-edged trope. In this, Daisies resembles the work of feminist writers Angela Carter (1940-92) and Rosario Ferré (b. 1938), whose respective stories "The Loves of Lady Purple" (1974) and "The Youngest Doll" (1976 in Spanish, 1991...