Sunday, 30 November 2014

Two Girls Go Crazy

They’re larking about.  This piece could finish now.  The whole movie described by a single word: fun.  

Is there more to this film than two girls going crazy?  An early shot of a psychedelic apple tree suggests that a moral fable exists amongst the wonderfully confusing images of this odd movie.  The two characters, who are both called Marie, themselves say they have gone to the bad, and proceed to indulge - and to delight in indulging - their own and other people’s sin.  Although there is the suspicion that their acts are only anarchic parodies of a life they do not wish to lead. Is it all just a game?  Is nothing for real?

It feels like an allegory, although I don’t know enough about Czechoslovak history to work out the correspondences, and anyway the humour is so obvious, in a black comedy kind-of-way, that there is little need to decipher the allusions.  Such pedantry is irrelevant too.  This film is poking fun at all societies, not just communist Czechoslovakia.  Marie has no respect for anything.  They only want to enjoy themselves. Life is fun!  Life is also a farce; their duty to make sure that it remains that way.  They enter a nightclub, where they play a trick on the waiter - substituting their own glasses and bottles of beer for that of the club’s -, get drunk, and lark about in the alcove, which looks like a stage.  Performing very badly they disturb the professional entertainment - two dancers dressed as Charlie Chaplin doing the Charleston - and annoy the couples seated quietly at their tables.  Marie is having a laugh, and everyone else must pay for it.

The film captures the inner world of a certain kind of young woman, who, if allowed her freedom, acts out her feelings and imagination with almost total abandonment.  Such lives rapidly becoming a series of games that can last for a minute or for a whole month, but rarely longer than that - this is a rapidly changing world of short, sudden and often crazy enthusiasms (perfect for consumer capitalism, if you will forgive me this Kulturkritik).1  Amongst the endless frolics there are the inevitable bad times.  Those hangovers after too many drinks.  The jealous rivalries over lovers.  The men who won’t go away.  These are the unfortunate consequences of improvising a life around the emotions; which are always unpredictable and rarely controllable once given their liberty.  Then there is the boredom. With no structure to their life their lives are flooded by feeling; and they are left to wallow in longing… We imagine a lone figure standing on a hillock in a landscape covered with water - it is raining and the river is overflowing its banks. She is waiting.  She is dreaming of vague images; she dreams of a lover who is wearing a feathered headdress and paddles a canoe…a face appears like a photograph.  The water is oozing up into her shoes, while the rain wraps the skirt around her cold legs.  She waits.  She dreams.  She hopes for the sun. She looks for…What?!  Ha! Ha! Ha! Marie is cutting Marie’s head off with a pair of scissors. Some brilliant collage work now follows, where the characters cut themselves up; their pieces interlaced with the wall decorations; themselves pieces of paper depicting mostly flowers and other ornaments (though some are real objects not illustrations - this film is full of such witty Dadaist camera work).

This is a world that most men do not understand.  The unexplained laughter.  The sudden enthusiasms. The silly stories, which Marie will try to make real.  To the outsider it is an insubstantial world that seems pointless and stupid.  To the staid gent or the homely matron such girls look like adults who are refusing to grow up.  This makes them highly seductive to particularly older men who mistake their vivacity and lewd behaviour for sexual licence.  How wrong can they be!  For Marie sex is mostly in the head.  Such serious activities as kissing and copulation are merely the occasion for jokes and daft pranks.  Oh, what a laugh it all is.

In bringing this world to life the film confuses us; and there are moments we find it tiresome.  Have we grown old too?  Have we become dull and respectable; preferring to moan about things rather than to understand and enjoy them?  This is possible.  However, it is also the case that a sense of frustration is the normal reaction to characters such as these; no matter our age or gender.  Do we really have to see the same scene replayed over and over again with only slight modifications and with different colour filters?  Of course we do!  Are the same three cons of three different men really necessary to capture the light-hearted cynicism of these girls who want both a free lunch and a laugh at the pathetic males (who may be Russians - one looks like Leonid Brezhnev) who pay for it.  Yes, it is essential we see them, and see them over and over and over again. For we must be irritated and bored too.  And characters like Marie do irritate.  And they are boring, if we spend too much time in their company.  This is not all.  Boredom is a fundamental aspect of these girls’ experiences; to live for the moment means repeating exactly the same patterns day after day; repetition, along with long stretches of hanging-around, the essence of this kind of life (which lasts between roughly the ages of 17 and 24).  Cutting each other up is great fun.  But before this inspired act they had spent the previous few hours lying listlessly on the bed; bored as few people can be.

We don’t know how many of these events exist only in the minds of our two heroines.  It doesn’t really matter, because for them there is no distinction between reality and fiction.  They live inside their own imaginations, which sometimes exists in words and which at other times they act out in deeds.  It is the inner life Daisies captures.  The outside world seen only through the exaggerations and distortions produced by their feelings and fantasies.  Everything is parody and pastiche.  We think of a fun-fair’s crazy mirrors and imagine Marie wearing a pair of spectacles whose lenses are tinted with colours and rippled with flaws…2

Are they lesbians?  We are told they are sisters, but this could be a simple euphemism.  A number of scenes are set in the toilet of a gay club, the interior of which we occasionally glimpse.  The female attendant appears to love them both; while Marie becomes infatuated with a tall thin lady, who could be a man in drag.  If they are gay the film takes on a slightly different meaning; the crazy over-the-top images may actually be a form of kitsch, and so represent a homosexual sensibility, though one that is conditioned by the age and gender of these characters.  Am I clear? Their gender and their age come before their sexuality, which at most only exaggerates their behaviour.

Food plays a big part in this film.  We can’t help but think that it is a metaphor for sex.  When Marie gorges on a huge slice of cream cake she could easily be giving a blow-job; the blob of cream splattering the man’s face too suggestive of semen for us to ignore it.  Such metaphors also slightly change the meaning of this film.  There is the suggestion that these women prostitute themselves to maintain their free lifestyle. The games they play with their interlocutors are not so innocent after all.  The scams to escape the men who have paid for their meals now take on a more sinister connotation - we imagine a client waiting naked on the bed as Marie dresses in the bathroom and then tip-toes out through a concealed door.3  Forced to board a train to escape a persistent benefactor (usually it is enough only to pretend to get on the train) they jump out when it enters a tunnel; and we see them stumbling along the tracks; their polkadot dresses smeared with dirt, their faces blacked up with smoke.  We think of bruises, cut lips and black eyes. This is one trick that didn’t work out as expected; the aggrieved punter not quite so docile as usual. 

At different times each Marie wants the other to confirm that it is wonderful to be at home (in the flat that they share).  This is not so easy!  Though bound together with love and camaraderie they are self-consciously free women and will therefore rarely acquiesce to such heartfelt sentiments.  Yet these freewheeling attitudes can be so tiring - there are times when everyone wants to vegetate in a trusted one’s presence.  To express a desire for rest and domesticity suggests that deep down they don’t won’t this crazy life to last forever.  It is too exhausting for that!  

They have their wish in the end.

It is after they go too far; when they eat up the entire contents of a huge banquet, which we assume was laid out for a committee of dignitaries.  They try to make amends by re-laying the table with the broken cutlery; as if the act itself - it shows that they are working - is good enough to save them.  Too late!  They must pay the penalty for their free and anti-social ways.

The machine has its revenge.

The machine?  In the opening credits we watch a wheel and axle going round and round; an odd and disconcerting image that is interspersed with a fighter plane bombing land and sea.  

When the film starts Marie is lying down in a sauna.  They are in their bathing costumes.  Suddenly they sit up, and to the noise of some grinding equipment mimic the movements of a marionette.  The machine, we assume, represents the bureaucratic state of modern Czechoslovakia; the puppet-play the good citizen at work and at leisure; while the falling bombs are the anarchic destruction caused by these young women; fighter pilots for freedom.  

This first scene is the moment they escape from their conditioning: giving up their habitual ways they parody their sad reality by acting like puppets.  Then, having made their point, they rebel, by saying that from now on they will be bad (people).  A few years of mad liberty is about to begin.  It cannot last.  Eventually the machine will regain control.  And order will be resumed.  Even if it means an expensive chandelier shattering into a million fragments.  For the only way to get rid of (total) freedom is to smash it to pieces.

We are relieved.  Such madcap escapades wear us out.  Also…these characters are too self-absorbed to be sympathetic; their lack of respect for anyone includes us in the audience.  They are only concerned with themselves.  Such egoism producing a glorious craziness that excites us for much of the movie, but whose relentlessness ultimately alienates. Voila!  We have found the moral lesson: these girls are too wild to live into their middle age. It is only right and just that they should die. For they have gone too far to compromise with the mores of their society, which must now take its revenge.   

Although Vera Chytilová will disagree with me.  She will, no doubt, talk about the Garden of Eden and how us girls are pushed out of it at the age of 24.  


Review: Daisies (Sedmikrásky)

1.  For the other side of this world seen from a man’s point of view read Christina Stead’s A Little Tea, A Little Chat; a character study of a crazy libertine.

2.  A brilliant example is the first person narration in Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth.

3.  I have borrowed the scene from Anthony Burgess’ The Right to an Answer.  He is describing a similar kind of character.

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