Věra Chytilová

About film

In 1963, a character study aptly called Something Different (O něčem jiném) premièred in Czechoslovak cinemas. After years of schematic dramas and socialism-building comedies, the veristic double portrait of a housewife and a talented gymnast offered a refreshing change. The film was the feature debut of Věra Chytilová – the first woman to graduate in direction at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU). She was also the only woman in a year led by the unkind but experienced director Otakar Vávra. In addition to that, she attracted attention with her independence, confidence, and formally unorthodox works.

While Chytilová’s fellow students often made very misogynistic stories about lost men and delicate women, she had been emphasizing women’s subjectivity from the beginning and, especially abroad, has been seen as a key feminist filmmaker (even though she herself refused to be labelled a feminist).

In her early films Ceiling (Strop, 1961), A Bagful of Fleas (Pytel blech, 1962) and Something Different, reflecting her own existential fumbling before entering FAMU, Chytilová was inspired by cinéma verité, worked with authentic dialogues and documentary shooting, and was interested in the everyday lives of ordinary people. But then she joined creative forces with the multi-talented artist Ester Krumbachová and cinematographer Jaroslav Kučera, made a sidestep and created Daisies (Sedmikrásky, 1966), an extravagant, mischievous morality tale, which even after fifty years continues to entertain and provoke. 

Even though in the 1960s Czechoslovakia was experiencing a decline in cultural and political tension and films were not the only works of art going beyond conventions, Chytilová’s new film was still too formally radical for its time and had to go through a complicated approval process both before and after its production.

While Something Different was seen by the heads of Czechoslovak State Film as an important project, Daisies were considered a dubious experiment, something domestic authors might better avoid. The ideological department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia was afraid that the metaphorical language would create space for ambiguous interpretations and, without authorial explication, the viewers would not know what to make of it. And yet that was exactly Chytilová’s point.

The story is a series of images from the lives of two teenage girls, named Marie I and Marie II in the credits, who decide to be as wicked as the world around them. It can be interpreted as an attack against the patriarchal establishment, a joyful celebration of femininity, or a sceptical criticism of the decay of social morality and relationships.

Looking their age but in their naivety, playfulness, and infantilism behaving like five-year-old children, both Maries resemble interchangeable dolls without specific qualities, a set of external feminine features, and two masks with nothing behind them. Taking to an extreme the shallowness, emotional swings, and silliness traditionally attributed to women, they expose the ridiculousness of roles women are expected to play in a patriarchy. According to Chytilová, their dullness, preventing the viewer’s identification with them, was to attract the audience’s attention to the ideas of the film.  

At first, there was not much indication that the work would be so ambivalent and problematic. It all started with a film story called Daisies (Chudobky) written for Chytilová by screenwriter Pavel Juráček, who was studying screenwriting and dramaturgy at FAMU at the same time that she was. Clearly set in the 1960s, the story realistically depicted two girls killing time playing various jokes at the expense of elderly men. At one point, the heroines decide to find out if there is in fact a decent person they could respect.

Written during brainstorming sessions with Krumbachová and Kučera, the final screenplay only contained fragments of the original text. The central principle of the story, in which the ordinary plot and character development is replaced by variations and repetitions, is the game “Truth or dare?” and mocking all kinds of conventions. The aim was no longer to present a realistic picture of the lives of two young women but a “philosophic documentary in the form of a farce”. Men managing the Barrandov Film Studio were getting nervous.

An opinion on the literary screenplay issued by the Central Press Supervision Office (HSTD) – the central censorship authority in Czechoslovakia – was significantly negative, mentioning for instance the “strong cynicism of the young girls” and the fact that the author didn’t hold a clear view on their way of life. Chytilová was strongly recommended to assign to the heroines their own identities, psychological features, and pasts, explaining their lack of interest in social norms. She was also expected to rid the screenplay of taboo words and any indications of a lesbian relationship.

The director made some concessions to the censors, and despite many objections, the technical screenplay successfully passed the approval procedure in the end. However, further complications arose during post-production, when it turned out that many dialogues were the result of improvisation during the shooting and not even the composition of shots corresponded to the screenplay presented. The working copy was rejected by the authorities in February 1966. Even though the dramaturgists had expected Daisies to be experimental, non-realistic, and irreverent, the result exceeded their expectations with its subversiveness and testing the limits of the possible.

In the meantime, the film was seen by many representatives of the Czechoslovak film community at private screenings. Pavel Juráček suggests in his diaries that when he attended the film festival in Pesaro, Italy in 1966 with Every Young Man (Každý mladý muž, 1966), some members of the Czechoslovak delegation mentioned Daisies and Jan Němec’s equally problematic film The Party and the Guests (O slavnosti a hostech, 1966) to foreign journalists. Subsequently, a request came from Italy to release both the secretly kept films for the Venice film festival (which didn’t happen in the end). According to Juráček, the Czechs assumed that the reason for this “interference in the internal cultural policy” were domestic filmmakers letting some information slip in Pesaro (and earlier in Cannes). Allegedly, the angry communist politician and ideologist Jiří Hendrych even called Juráček and his colleagues “bastards” and “snitches”.

Daisies only got the green light in July 1966 after several editing changes and significant shortening. Money probably played a role here as well. Shot on a more expensive colour material, the film had already been sold abroad. With its ban, the state-owned film industry would lose the invested capital and an opportunity to earn hard foreign currency. However, the distribution in Czechoslovakia still didn’t run smoothly. The discussion continued as to whether the film would be released in cinemas at all. Moreover, the press could not publish any texts about Daisies. The readers didn’t find out why the film, finished already for several months, only premièred in December 1966. The release was also greatly limited.

Chytilová, Krumbachová, and Kučera meant their satirical parable as a polemic with modern society and the means of expression of a rational, disciplining (male) world that the Maries refuse to submit to.

The collage-like edited composition decomposing the whole into autonomous pictures, lenses deforming the perspective, sped-up and slow motion, experimenting with image colours, unnatural sound effects, ironically used classical music pieces, extravagant decorations and costumes combining Art Nouveau cuts with fashion magazine aesthetics: the result is not meant to be harmonic. On the other hand, connecting the high and the low, the ugly and the beautiful reflects the position of women who were prevented by society from creating meaning, and that’s why they resorted to destructive anarchy and play (including word play, which in their case replaces using full sentences, which would mean submitting to the language structure of the patriarchy). With their irrational, unmotivated behaviour, they expose the hidden charm of destruction.

With her story about girls whose lives are only made of idleness, seducing men, destroying things, and consumption, the author wanted to provoke a response. And the audience – mainly its male part – was indeed not indifferent. The film was sharply rejected by Juráček, the author of the original story (however, his contempt was combined with admiration for Chytilová’s execution capabilities), and by surrealist Vratislav Effenberger, who wrote about “decorative cynicism”. According to other reflections of the time, Daisies was too pessimistic and hopeless, lacking faith in the power of reason.

It was MP Jaroslav Pružinec who voiced the harshest criticism in 1967. His interpellation at a National Assembly session was related to selected works of the Czechoslovak New Wave. He called for a ban of distribution especially for Daisies and The Party and the Guests. His request, which prompted several filmmakers to send a letter to the Minister of Culture, was denied, but it showed that Chytilová – just like in her earlier and later films – managed to grasp the absurdity of the time. What Pružinec hated most about the film criticizing the indifference to things that should make us indignant was not the Maries’ nihilistic apathy. He was offended by the wasting of food during the final apocalyptic feast scene, which was allegedly insensitive to Czech farmers.

Martin Šrajer

References and recommended reading:

Michael Brooke, Flower Power. Sight and Sound 19, August 2009, No. 8, p. 87.

Petra Hanáková, Případ Chytilová a Krumbachová. In: Petra Hanáková, Libuše Heczková, Eva Kalivodová, Kateřina Svatoňová (eds.), Volání rodu. Praha: Akropolis 2013, pp. 202–224.

Pavel Juráček, Deník III, 19591974. Praha: Torst 2018.

Bliss Cua Lim, Dolls in Fragments: Daisies as Feminist Allegory. Camera Obscura 16 (2001), No. 47, pp. 37–78.

Alison Frank, Formal Innovation and Feminist Freedom. Cineaction, 2010, No. 81, pp. 46–49.

Lukáš Skupa, Perfectly Unpredictable: Early Work of Věra Chytilová in the Light of Censorship and Production Reports. Studies in Eastern European Cinema 9, November 2018, No. 3, pp. 233–249.

Kateřina Svatoňová, Mezi-obrazy: Mediální praktiky kameramana Jaroslava Kučery. Praha: Univerzita Karlova, Národní filmový archiv 2016.

Zbyněk Vlasák (ed.), Autorka neklidu. Věra Chytilová očima české filmové kritiky. Brno: Moravská zemská knihovna 2021.

Filmographic data

Věra Chytilová

Ester Krumbachová, Věra Chytilová

Jaroslav Kučera

Jiří Šust, Jiří Šlitr

Jitka Cerhová, Ivana Karbanová, Julius Albert, Jan Klusák, Marie Češková, Marcela Březinová, Jiřina Myšková, Oldřich Hora, Václav Chochola

Filmové studio Barrandov, 73 min.


Daisies are indeed also a morality play like Ceiling (Strop), because every parable is a morality play; it wants to warn, negate, purify, and improve. But Daisies are a morality play of a completely different magnitude: it doesn’t present “reformation” as advice, quite the contrary – in the interest of morality, it portrays consistent negation and destruction. And I think that it is this consistency that gives the film its great and poetic drive and immense power.”

Jaroslav Boček, Film a doba 12, 1966, No. 11, p. 571.


“It is (quite) obvious what makes Daisies different from Something Different (O něčem jiném). It’s the foolishness replacing ordinariness, the craziness replacing strictness, and various colours replacing greyness. The incoherent story and unusual situations can be easily regarded as modern, just like extremely original photos (anyone having seen the film must consider Kučera one of the great cinematographers of our time). This film involves all kinds of experiments. But at the same time, it’s the reverse, explanation, and continuation of Something Different. A new gate opened, then closed.”

Serge Daney, Cahiers du cinéma, September 1967, No. 193.


“It is a deafening film both in an abstract and more specific sense. Going outside, we blink our eyes and stutter, we are deaf in the left ear and can’t feel our right leg. In twenty-one hundred hectometres, we have been flitting from red to violet, from a swimming pool to a meadow or a room (in constant changing of counter-shots), from fast cuts to long farce sequences, from one trick to another, from Pablo Picasso in the cubism period (D. H. Kahnweiler’s portrait) to the Spanish period of Josef von Sternberg with Marlene Dietrich. It seems that this super-Mélièsque film says, ‘Lumière didn’t exist, everything is allowed”. In cooperation with her husband Jaroslav Kučera – the magic-doing cinematographer of Diamonds of the Night (Démanty noci) –, Věra Chytilová realized her dreams from the time of her beginnings as a retoucher (non-staged shots are rare), clapper girl (sharp cuts), and model (even the strongest experiments don’t jeopardize elegance and the artist class).”

Roger Tailleur, Positif, January 1968, No. 91.


“My tip: the film Daisies. To watch it, I had to go all the way to the Brno Studio Cinema where it was screened for a few days. While Something Different had been quite boring to me, Daisies was an extraordinary experience: thrilled and curious, I was devouring every sequence, every shot. What virtuosity! But mainly, what a brutally realistic topic: what cocky and sweet stupidity grasped in two gorgeously monstrous little girls! How it was possible to portray this monstrosity so elegantly, poetically, dreamily, “beautifully”, without making it lose its monstrous qualities is something I can’t understand. But this is probably what is so miraculous about Daisies.”

Milan Kundera, Literární noviny 16, 1967, No. 25, p. 2. 


“In Daisies, we can find all that today’s international art market was able to accept (in an absolutely reduced form, indeed) in terms of modern art development and what it thrives with: pop-art, op-art, happenings, letter decorations, absurdity à la 1920s and other forms of decorative cynicism with faded-away sarcasm. What once used to be the product of imaginative protest comes back after several decades as decorative formalism, for which today’s mental decay of humans is only an opportunity for decoration. According to the principle of representative functions, this popular eclecticism is in sharp contrast with social reality: the decay of the human spirit, represented by the film’s heroines, is actually far more monstrous than Věra Chytilová managed to grasp. And where conflict should arise, there is surprising banality and nearly Zhdanovesque decoratedness: let’s point out for instance the scene with workers going to work! – “Cynicism for the sake of cynicism is cynicism against the truth” – these words by one of the most brilliant cynicists of modern French poetry, René Crevel, are remarkably true for this film with a little addition: cynicism for the sake of cynicism is cynicism against the truth and perception.”

Vratislav Effenberger, Film a doba 1968, No. 7, p. 351. 


Director’s explication

The film portrays life; a certain understanding and way of life demonstrated on the story of two girls in a hyperbole. We don’t intend to criticize these two specific girls, extravagant and atypical; what we want to criticize is the lifestyle the elements of which we all bear in our typical and orderly lives to a greater or lesser extent. We want to reveal life’s hollowness trapped in a vicious circle of pseudo-relationships and pseudo-values, inevitably leading to emptiness of life’s forms, and to showing off either depravity or happiness.

We are presenting a summary of certain questions related to the value of an individual, this value being one though that a person must create himself or herself and find in himself or herself in every life situation imaginable. This can’t do without an inner fight and who won’t go through this fight, cannot succeed.

It is kind of an obituary for the shallowness of a certain way of life, for the dangerous human need of prestige which leads to showing off, even to the point of death, for the inability to be himself or herself, and therefore, the inability to be happy.

This serious point is supposed to be adapted in a completely non-serious manner, in the form of a bizarre comedy with the touch of satire and sarcasm towards both heroines as we believe that we will best achieve the sudden understanding and critical effect by accentuating comedic, grotesque aspects of events, i.e., by deliberately leading the viewer away from individual psychology, by disturbing his shared experience and leading him to understand the meaning, i.e., to philosophy. From a certain point of view, it is a grotesque philosophical documentary.

Věra Chytilová, Film a doba 12, 1966, No. 4, p. 169.

Trampled On: The Original Critical Reception of Daisies in the US and UK

Věra Chytilová’s 1966 Daisies (Sedmikrásky) is today undoubtedly one of the best-known and best-loved Czech films across the Anglophone world. It is admired and enjoyed for the boldness of its visual experiments, the subversive charge of its heroines’ outrageous gastronomic gags and pranks, the exhilarating force of its slapstick exuberance and sensory overload. It might therefore be surprising to learn that upon its original appearance in both the US and the UK Chytilová’s film encountered a good deal of critical hostility. As the teasing words of the film’s own closing dedication would have it, prominent reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic effectively declared themselves upset by a trampled-on salad.

The film has thus seen a striking change in its critical fortunes, a change partly connected to no less dramatic shifts in the meanings and concerns ascribed to the film. What was at the time frequently considered a satire (successful or otherwise) about consumerism or a scolding study of irresponsibility and greed has more recently tended to be read as an exercise in deconstructed gender norms and anti-patriarchal rebellion. More than most films Daisies has benefitted from the shifting language of cultural analysis, from the emergence and diffusion of new socio-political concerns and critical concepts in the years and decades since its release. As the survey of contemporaneous American and British reviews that follows may attest, Chytilová’s film was perhaps too hip even for the late 1960s.

Original US Reception

Daisies appeared earlier in the US than in the UK, and with a rather bigger fanfare. It had its American premiere at the Festival of New Czechoslovak Cinema that played at New York’s Museum of Modern Art between June 29 and July 11, 1967, ‘as part of the Lincoln Center Festival’.[1] Created as a response to several recent Czechoslovak successes in America, the film season was programmed by Willard Van Dyke, Director of MOMA’s Film Department, and the highly influential film curator Amos Vogel, who at the time referred to Chytilová’s film as a ‘splendiferous masterpiece’ and who would later devote a passage to it in his classic 1974 study Film as a Subversive Art (where he calls it ‘[v]isually and structurally perhaps the most sensational film of the Czech film renaissance’).[2] Such, apparently, was the importance of Daisies that the film festival would not even have gone ahead had the Czechoslovak government ‘stuck by its refusal’ to release this controversial title for export.[3]

Not all viewers shared Van Dyke or Vogel’s enthusiasm for the film, and critics’ responses to this initial festival screening would prove typical of a wider split in American reactions. The negative voices included those of Bosley Crowther, resident reviewer for The New York Times and at this point perhaps the most important film critic in America, who dismissed Daisies as ‘a pretentiously kookie and laboriously overblown mod farce’, with its ‘thoroughly emptyheaded’ heroines and failed ‘stabs at humor and satire’.[4] Several days later Time magazine’s unnamed reviewer conceded that the film was ‘brilliantly audacious’ pictorially, but attacked it for its ‘leaden symbolism’ and a script ‘that has all the consistency of an amateur happening’.[5] But perhaps the most damning take, and certainly the most unpleasant, came, characteristically, from the notorious John Simon in The New Leader. Simon calls Daisies ‘the bottom of the barrel’ of the MOMA festival, and condescendingly and insultingly dubs Chytilová ‘a one-time fashion model and never director’.[6] He damns the film’s escapades as ‘disconnected’, ‘silly’, ‘uneventful’, ‘uproariously unfunny’, ‘unconscionably dragged out’, and a derivation of the ‘dregs’ of silent comedy, Godard, Warhol, Richter and underground cinema. The film is doubly slammed for emulating ‘what is worst in the West’ – with ‘its idiot yearning for Western beatnikdom’ – and conforming to ‘what is worst in the East’ – with its ultimate punishment of its amoral protagonists. If there is any value to Simon’s piece, it is the way it makes plain the distaste for the two protagonists that seems to colour or underpin the most negative reactions to the film: here they are branded ‘teeniest-brained teenyboppers’, ‘cretinous beatniks’ and ‘ghastly’, and the actresses themselves deemed ‘supremely untalented and reasonably unattractive’ (Stanley Eichelbaum, in The San Francisco Examiner, would later give Simon’s chauvinistic disgust a run for its money by noting that the film ‘gave me a pain in the stomach’ and describing the heroines as ‘unattractive to the point of distress’).[7]

At the opposite extreme from Simon’s excoriations was the noted critic Penelope Gilliatt, who covered the MOMA film festival for The New Yorker. Gilliatt takes issue with Chytilová’s own interpretation of the film as a ‘necrologue about a negative way of life’, considering it instead ‘a delicately balmy and freewheeling piece of slapstick, dedicated to recording the passing impulses of two ravishing teenagers with the pre-moral interests of infants.’[8] In an interpretation that anticipates more recent assessments of the film as an affirmation of overturned conventions and unleashed appetites, and of its heroines’ anarchy as positive, Gilliatt concludes that this is no ‘fable about depravity’, as Chytilová and other critics have implied, but a ‘dainty hymn to gorging, photographed with energy and taste…and played by dolly girls with the voice boxes of goats and the bodies of succubi.’[9] Unlike many later commentators, though, Gilliatt declares the film essentially an ‘apolitical’ work whose evocation of the absurd is motivated chiefly by the absurd’s ‘funniness’.

Daisies was clearly considered appealing enough to be selected for an American release, being one of a number of Czechoslovak films acquired in 1967 – via the mediations of famed Italian producer Carlo Ponti – by the small New York-based distributor Sigma III, a subsidiary of Filmways. When the film opened theatrically at New York’s 34th Street East Theatre on October 25, 1967, Crowther devoted a longer review to it in the New York Times, though his opinions had not changed. Crowther here returns to Chytilová’s interpretations of the film (offered in person when attending the festival) as a ‘philosophical document’ and a study of ‘the dangerous hunger for prestige’ that results in ‘a total inability to be alone and therefore happy’.[10] In place of such respectably weighty meanings, however, all Crowther sees is ‘a conglomeration of random shots’ that offers only fleeting amusement.

In a sympathetic review for The Christian Science Monitor from March 1968, Louise Sweeney – who had earlier interviewed Chytilová for the same journal during the director’s New York visit – calls the film ‘brilliant’ but notes that it is ‘bound to alienate those who like the moral and the plot clear as Waterford crystal.’[11] This is a ‘chaotic and ambiguous’ work, ‘short on entertainment’, and ‘so plotless it makes Godard look like Cecil B. De Mille.’ While not much different in substance from Crowther comments about the story’s ‘randomness’, Sweeney’s piece lacks his disapproval. She also finds the film’s essential justification in its visual realization, noting that Chytilová and her cinematographer husband Jaroslav Kučera ‘do things with film that have just never been done before’: ‘their kaleidoscopic cuts, supermontages, acrobatic marvels of film technique dazzle even a professional filmgoer.’ From this relatively obscure quarter, Sweeney displays a tolerance for the film’s narrative unconventionality and an appreciation for the uniqueness of its visual experimentation that was sometimes lacking in the more prominent publications.

Claire Clouzot’s review in Film Quarterly is rooted in a more informed awareness about Chytilová’s work and the film’s context, appropriately for the more scholarly nature of this publication. Describing the film as ‘the most uncompromising and mature work ever to come out of the Barrandov studios’ and a ‘shattering’ chronicle of ‘devastation and nihilism’, Clouzot is the rare critic who both assents to Chytilová’s own description of the film as a ‘philosophical documentary’ and a work of social commentary, and sees these elements as successfully realized or achieved in the film itself.[12] For her this a brutal and shattering indictment of ‘[o]ur entire civilization’, in which the two ‘greedy little creatures’ who dominate the story, far from simply inconsequential irritants, are ‘specimens of the capitalistic (or…socialist) drive for acquisition’, representatives of ‘social or economic parasitism’ and the ties between ‘consumption and destruction’.[13] Like Sweeney, Clouzot is highly enamoured of the film’s aesthetic and technical ‘inventiveness’, its ‘indivisible’ fusion of ‘rhythm, decor, color, and soundtrack’, with the latter element given especial praise for its ‘incredible’ collage of songs, snatches of music and ‘animation noises’. For Clouzot all this stylisation serves the film’s grave theme, turning ‘a materialistic social criticism’ into ‘a poetic parable’. She notes, however, that the ‘complex richness’ of the film’s style may prove the victim of its own innovation, being ‘naturally offensive’ to the contemporary viewer still unschooled in the ‘optical gymnastics’ on display here.[14]

Clouzot’s latter point about the film’s style anticipates a view of the film that has since been widely established: that it was ahead of its time. In contrast, however, most of the original American reviewers tended to treat it simply as modish, ‘with it’, a work typically of its time. References thus abound in these reviews to the hippie movement, the counterculture and the underground. Time calls the film ‘a hippie pipe dream that looks and sounds like something concocted by a den member of America’s own underground cinema clique’, Norman K. Dorn of The San Francisco Examiner piece calls it a ‘flower-child-movie’ with ‘a swinging manifesto’ and one that ‘sets about to prove that hippydom is not an exclusive stake-out of Haight Street’, while Will Jones in the The Minneapolis Tribune suggests that it could have been promoted ‘as a psychedelic film’.[15] Sigma III did in fact promote it as something along these lines, with the original US posters prominently displaying Time’s ‘hippie pipe dream’ quote cited above and featuring the strained, Learyesque tagline ‘upsa-daisy, downs-a-daisy, turned-ons-a-daisy’ – advantageously trendy touches for a film perhaps otherwise difficult to categorise and even harder to sell.

In at least one case, though, the film’s links with the counterculture were not simply a matter of idle or commercially impelled labelling but of embrace by the counterculture itself. In a brief but intense notice from the underground newspaper East Village Other, written after the original festival screening, Lil Picard acclaims the film as ‘[o]ne of the most enlightening events of this month’, ‘a “message film” without boredom’ and ‘a masterpiece’.[16] It is ‘the best’ of ‘all the destruction-happenings I have seen’ and – prophetic words – ‘will become a Chaplin-quality classic of the sixties.’ A counterculture cabaret performer and collagist linked first with German Dada and later with New York’s avant-garde art scene, Picard was obviously disposed to love and appreciate the film in ways that many American reviewers at the time could not.

Original UK Reception

Daisies first reached the UK in November 1967, when it played as the closing film at the London Film Festival. It did not receive a theatrical release until summer 1968, when it opened on the 11th July at the Paris-Pullman cinema in South Kensington (a cinema then recently acquired by the film’s distributor Contemporary Films). It was paired with Lindsay Anderson’s The White Bus (1967), a medium-length film originally intended for a portmanteau project to have involved three of Britain’s former ‘Free Cinema’ directors. The pairing was apt – The White Bus too has a semi-surreal style that is itself Czech-influenced, being the first of Anderson’s three collaborations with cinematographer Miroslav Ondříček – but neither film prospered. As Anderson himself later noted, ‘the London critics slaughtered Daisies, and The White Bus didn’t do much better.’[17] Indeed the British reception of Daisies was perhaps even more negative than the American one.

A review by David Wilson for the Monthly Film Bulletin from January 1968 effectively sets the tone for what was to follow. Once again taking up Chytilová’s own statements on the film (‘a philosophical documentary in the form of a farce’), Wilson writes that ‘the images of cosmic destruction with which the film begins and ends leave no doubt about what she means to say.’[18] If, on the one hand, Wilson criticises the film for ‘the crashing obviousness of its basic premise’ – i.e. that ‘life in a materialist, consumer-based society is a vicious circle of destruction’ – he also attacks Chytilová for ‘opting out’ of a clear enough delineation of the protagonists’ ultimate fate and the implications of the ending: ‘are the two Maries destined for eternal damnation, or is a new world to rise from the splinters of the chandelier?’ The film is further criticised for recycling ‘images and moods which crop up again and again in Czech cinema’ (the connections drawn with Jan Němec’s Martyrs of Love (Mučedníci lásky, 1966) are especially unfair given that this film was made after Daisies), for failing to rise above the formulaic, ‘ready-made’ surrealism of its imagery, and for offering only ‘gimmickry’ instead of ‘genuine invention’.  

Later British reviewers reasserted what they too saw as the obviousness or crudity of the film’s ‘message’, which was commonly agreed to be a satirical and moral one – or even, for The Daily Telegraph’s Eric Shorter, a ‘plainly puritanical’ one.[19] Shorter somewhat patronisingly argued that the film’s ‘satire’ – directed against characters leading ‘a life without commitment’ and ‘an acquisitive world governed…by laziness and greed’ – is ‘so limited and monotonous’ that ‘it hardly seems worth aiming at a Western audience where such scorn seems almost naïve’. Tom Milne in The Observer called the film ‘a Czech comedy-with-a-message’, ‘all very symbolic if you get the very obvious point’, and Punch’s Richard Mallett saw it as ‘a laborious way of putting over a very simple idea’ – ‘the emptiness of a life lived only for kicks’.[20] Remarks like these are of course strikingly at odds with those commentators for whom the film’s meanings remain ambiguous, contradictory or even opaque.

Some of the negative reviews offer grudging or offhand praise for the film’s style or technical effects. Shorter calls its ‘experiments in colour’ ‘sometimes fairly pleasing or surprising’, Milne compliments its ‘exquisite colour’, and Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming, concedes that ‘inventiveness is applied’ to the film’s ‘appalling’ ends, and that the ‘self-congratulatory pyrotechnics’ of Jaroslav Kučera’s camerawork ‘beguil[es] the eye’ even as ‘we are submitted’ to undue ‘sermonising at the hands of his wife’.[21] Elsewhere the style itself came in for criticism. Mallett decried the lack of motivation behind the film’s changes of colour, the distinguished Michael Billington, in The Illustrated London News, called the whole thing ‘relentless, tricksy, headache-inducing’, and a blunt and exasperated Dick Richards, in The Daily Mirror, chastised protagonists and director alike: ‘There seems to be nothing wrong with the young anti-heroines of “Daisies”…that a short, sharp spanking would not put right. Their behaviour is giggly, stupid and tedious, and Vera Chytilova [sic] has directed it with the exuberant self-indulgence of someone who has just bought a home-movie camera.’[22]

Among the rare positive assessments was Ian Wright’s review in The Guardian, which is rarer still for adopting a gender-oriented (if not necessarily feminist) perspective, praising the film’s ‘enlighteningly female view’ and noting its ‘moral’ commentary on ‘women as objects’ and ‘the inherent frivolity of much female existence.’[23] Such commentary, Wright suggests, is what Chytilová means by referring to the film as a ‘philosophical documentary’. The film’s style is described as ‘sharp and invigorating’ and the two lead actresses as ‘thoroughly watchable’. An unsigned capsule review of both Daisies and The White Bus, again from The Observer, praises the two films as ‘amusing’ examples of, respectively, ‘bouncing Czech and British understatement.’[24] Beyond the national outlets, a brief review published in the London press (Westminster & Pimlico NewsChelsea News and General Advertiser) described Daisies positively as ‘a lyrical film, written with the camera.’[25]

Overall, however, the dominant tone of the film’s British reception would appear to be summed up by an end-of-year overview of the year’s film releases in The Sunday Telegraph: ‘the ridiculous Daisies showed that the Czechs could be just as awful as anybody else.’[26]

Later Reassessment: How the Daisies Became Good

In the years since the original release of Daisies, protagonists Marie I and Marie II have been subject to a remarkable vindication or ‘redemption’ of the kind they were denied by the film’s own apocalyptic ending. From being irresponsible youths living for kicks, from being feckless flower children, disgusting vandals or simply an ‘awful pair’, the heroines have since been critically recuperated as anarchic rebels, semiotic activists and subverters of male power.[27] They have been seen as forerunners of Thelma and Louise, as ‘nihilists, anarchists, feminists’ who fuse Lena Dunham’s Girls with Pussy Riot, and their actions as a mocking attack on ‘a power structure…rotten at its core.’[28] Having thus transformed these protagonists from the objects to the agents of the film’s satire, critics are now more likely to cheer-lead than to chastise the upset table manners.

No less than the protagonists’ culinary outrages, the film’s stylistic outrages have also subsequently been celebrated for their transgressiveness and radicalism, and have gone from provoking distaste to inspiring an equally visceral delight – from Eichelbaum’s stomach pains and Billington’s headaches to Steven Shaviro ‘literally trembling with joy and exhilaration’.[29] The film now enjoys the enviable status of the subversive classic, the avant-garde delight, the well-respected work that is also wicked fun.[30]

Several factors have been at work in the film’s ultimate transformation in status, the most important of which are probably the spread of feminist consciousness and the consolidation of academic film studies. It is the feminist critique and interrogation of established gender roles that has helped reframe the protagonists’ antics as subversive and positive acts, and Chytilová’s own tactics in terms of a specifically female discourse (a concrete analogue to this at the level of exhibition is the way the film began to be shown at festivals of women filmmakers during the 1970s and ‘80s). The critical instruments of academic film scholarship have perhaps proven generally influential too in this shift towards gender-based readings and, when brought specifically to bear on Daisies itself, have proven equal to grappling with the film’s obscurities for the elucidation of future viewers. Such erudite, sensitive and persuasive scholarly readings of the film as Herbert Eagle’s ‘Dada and Structuralism in Chytilová’s Daisies’, Bliss Cua Lim’s ‘Dolls in Fragments: Daises as Feminist Allegory’ and the highly contextually informed writing of Peter Hames may thus have had some role in shaping later receptions.[31] It must be noted though that the film’s ‘rehabilitation’ and the shift in its interpretation have not been entirely straightforward or absolute. Even in 1990 Time Out magazine’s Adrian Turner could pen a review as vitriolic as any from the 1960s, brutally concluding that the film ‘stinks’, and in 2012 the Boston Globe described it as ‘unrelenting’ and ‘a mess’.[32]

Daisies’ changing reception bears an interesting relationship to Chytilová’s own statements about her film. As the film has grown in stature and popularity it has also grown distant from its director’s stated view that it is a ‘parable’ about materialism and ‘parasitism’ ‘with strands of satire and sarcasm’ aimed at its two protagonists.[33] It is ironic, perhaps, that a number of the original, negative reviews essentially adhered to the director’s own comments on the film (especially in Britain) whereas the later, positive responses tend to discuss the film in ways markedly at odds with those comments and in terms alien to those used by Chytilová (though Bliss Cua Lim, while developing a reading of the film as a feminist allegory, does acknowledge Chytilová’s stated intentions and argues that the film ‘can be read multivalently’ as both a critique and a celebration of its ‘recalcitrant’ heroines).[34]

We may on the one hand regard this shift of interpretation in terms of an ultimate, belated revelation of the film’s ‘real’ meaning, a meaning that the original reviewers were perhaps too blinkered by the director’s statements or by their own conservatism to perceive.[35] We may on the other see this shift as testament to the film’s slippery complexity, its interpretative malleability, and an illustration of the way a film’s meaning changes over time together with the needs, values and critical frameworks of new generations of viewers. Whichever is the case, it is undoubtedly a good thing that this acidic confection of a film tends nowadays to be critically savoured rather than stomped on.

Jonathan Owen


[1] ‘Festival of New Czechoslovak Cinema’, The Museum of Modern Art, No. 65, June 28, 1967 (https://www.moma.org/momaorg/shared/pdfs/docs/press_archives/3914/releases/MOMA_1967_Jan-June_0088_65.pdf) (accessed October 1, 2021)

[2] John Simon, ‘Festival of Czechoslovak Film: Part 1’, in Movies into Film: Film Criticism 1967-1970 (The Dial Press: New York, 1971) (originally published in The New Leader, Vol. 50, No. 14), p.282; Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art (New York: Random House, 1974), p.141.

[3] Simon, op. cit.

[4] Bosley Crowther, ‘The Screen: Czechoslovak Showcase: Center, Museum Join in Festival Project’, The New York Times, June 19 1967 (https://www.nytimes.com/1967/06/19/archives/the-screen-czechoslovak-showcasecenter-museum-join-in-festival.html) (accessed October 1, 2021)

[5] ‘Cinema: Czech New Wave’, Time, June 23, 1967 (http://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,839566,00.html) (accessed October 2, 2021)

[6] Simon, op. cit.

[7] Stanley Eichelbaum, ‘Over-Fed Czech Allegory’, The San Francisco Examiner, November 9, 1968, p.9.

[8] Penelope Gilliatt, ‘The Current Cinema: Czech Wave in New York’, The New Yorker, July 1, 1967, p.56.

[9] Ibid., pp.56-57.

[10] Bosley Crowther, “‘Daisies’ at East 34th’, The New York Times, October 26, 1967 (https://www.nytimes.com/1967/10/26/archives/screen-camelot-arrives-at-warnerfilm-hasnt-overcome-stage-plays.html) (accessed October 2, 2021)

[11] Louise Sweeney, ‘“The Daisies”’, The Christian Science Monitor, March 4, 1968, p.6.

[12] Claire Clouzot, ‘Daisies’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 3, Spring 1968, p.35.

[13] Ibid., pp.35-36.

[14] Ibid., p.37.

[15] Norman K. Dorn, ‘A Fresh New Wave from the Czech Film Makers’, The San Francisco Examiner, July 23, 1967, p.7; Norman K. Dorn, ‘“Does it Matter?” Usually it Didn’t’, The San Francisco Examiner, November 10, 1968, p.10; Don Morrison, ‘“Daisies” Tells a Madcap Czech Tale of 2 Girls’, The Minneapolis Star, April 12 1968, p.15.

[16] Lil Picard, ‘She Has Her Feet in Her Face’, East Village Other, Vol. 2, No. 16, July 15-30, 1967, p.16.

[17] Lindsay Anderson, ‘The White Bus’, in Paul Ryan (ed.), Never Apologise: The Collected Writings of Lindsay Anderson (London: Plexus), p.107.

[18] David Wilson, ‘Sedmikrásky (Daisies)’, Monthly Film Bulletin, Vol. 35, No. 408, January 1, 1968, p.195.

[19] Eric Shorter, ‘Mindless Misses’, Daily Telegraph, July 12, 1968, p.19.

[20] Tom Milne, ‘Bergman’s Vengeful Demons’, The Observer, July 14, 1968, p.24; Richard Mallett, ‘Cinema’, Punch, Vol. 255, No. 6671, July 17, 1968, pp.30-31.

[21] Gordon Gow, ‘Daisies’, Films and Filming, Vol. 14, No. 12, September 1968, pp.36-37.

[22] Michael Billington, ‘Bergman the Mesmerist’, The Illustrated London News, Vol. 253, No. 6729, July 20, 1968, p.32; Dick Richards, ‘The Old Firm Step on the Gas’, Daily Mirror, July 12, 1968, p.23.

[23] Ian Wright, ‘Prospero’s Knell’, The Guardian, July 12, 1968, p.8.

[24] ‘Daisies (A) and The White Bus (A)’, The Observer, July 21, 1968, p.18.

[25] Steve Hunt, ‘Tennyson and Tolstoy’, Westminster and Pimlico News, July 12, 1968, p.2.

[26] Margaret Hinxman, ‘Good Views of the Year’, The Sunday Telegraph, December 29, 1968, p.10.

[27] Gow, p.37.

[28] Kate Muir, ‘Classic Film of the Week: Daisies’, The Times, March 6, 2015 (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/classic-film-of-the-week-daisies-1966-mg69bk7v5cj) (accessed October 3, 2021); Carmen Gray, ‘Daisies’, Sight & Sound, Vol. 24, No. 5, May 2014, p.112.

[29] Steven Shaviro, ‘Daisies’, The Pinocchio Theory, January 26, 2007 (http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=547) (October 3, 2021)

[30] Michael Wilmington in Chicago Tribune, 2003: ‘“Daisies” is that relative rarity, a landmark movie classic that’s still lots of fun.’ (‘“Daisies” a swinging ‘60s dandy’, Chicago Tribune, April 25, 2003, p.8.)

[31] Herbert Eagle, ‘Dada and Structuralism in Chytilová’s Daisies’, in Ladislav Matejka (ed.), Crosscurrents 10: A Yearbook of Central European Culture (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1991), pp.223-234; Bliss Cua Lim, ‘Dolls in Fragments: Daisies as Feminist Allegory’, Camera Obscura 47, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2001, pp.1-77; Peter Hames, ‘The Return of Věra Chytilová’, Sight & Sound, Vol. 48, No. 3, Summer 1979, pp.168-173; Hames, The Czechoslovak New Wave (London: Wallflower Press, 2005).

[32] Adrian Turner, ‘Daisies’, in John Pym (ed.), The Time Out Film Guide (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2000), p.243; Mark Feeney, ‘A Prague Spring Wildflower (Very Wild) Blooms at the Brattle’, The Boston Globe, August 24, 2012, p.10.

[33] Chytilová, quoted in Lim, p.41.

[34] Ibid., p.38.

[35] J. Hoberman, for one, argues that, the director’s own ‘cagey’ assertions about the film notwithstanding, ‘there is just too much jouissance in the protagonists’ spiritedly anti-social behavior (as well as in the filmmaking) for Daisies to be understood as anything other than a celebration. (‘Perfect Chaos: Vera Chytilová’s Sedmikrásky (Daisies)’, Artforum, April 2019 (https://www.artforum.com/print/201904/j-hoberman-on-vera-chytilova-s-sedmikrasky-daisies-78969) (accessed October 3, 2021)