“Everything is being spoiled on this world.”
“What do you mean, everything?”
“You know, everything.”
“In this world…”
“When everything is being spoiled…”
“Is that a problem?”
“Not at all!”
And with a slap, Daisies takes off: falling into a rabbit hole of absurdity much like Alice that kicks off with Marie and Marie II (Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová) engaging in all sorts of activities together. To try and find a distinct plot would be foolish when it comes to Věra Chytilová’s rather brilliant little film, as it is solely comprised of these young women indulging as much as physically possible. As the Criterion description itself states, “they embark on a series of pranks in which nothing—food, clothes, men, war—is taken seriously.”
Those lines in the opening segment of the movie explicitly showcase the giddy nihilism behind Daisies. Chytilová presents audiences with a work of art–one that was banned in the sixties during the Czech New Wave in which it came to exist–that is unabashedly political. After all, so much of Daisies is dedicated to depicting two women going against the societal norms of their era (and even our own).
They destroy the patriarchy bit by bit by taking advantage of men with their youth and beauty for the sake of free food, making those same men weep and lust after them with desperation, drinking as they please while disrupting the public during live performances, and even cutting apart bananas, croissants, pickles, sausages, eggs (basically a mountain of phallic objects) before feeding on them as a man speaks of love for them.
The sense of wild abandon presented within these sketches is present in the film’s every aspect, particularly in its editing. It cuts from black-and-white to every which color filter placed over it and back, sometimes cutting to scenes shot in full color and others like the brilliant, almost psychedelic train sequence. Even the way its kooky soundtrack ebbs in and out works to its benefit. Alongside its presentation are its stars, Cerhová and Karbanová, both of whom command the screen in every which way.
It’s impossible to look away from them and all the havoc they wreak, their beauty and natural performances (as neither one was actually an actress) compelling the viewer to want more, more, more, even if they’re unaware of what’s unfolding on screen. All of this, ultimately, is a result of just how much fun Daisies is to watch. It’s a total breeze to view even when things seem to repeat themselves.
To go from experiencing this (admittedly rewatching it for the first time since my initial viewing in my History of Film university course) to sitting through Navajo Joe is a strange shift. Pitting a delightfully feminist film against a spaghetti western in which Burt Reynolds stars as a Navajo Indian hellbent on revenge seems misguided, but that’s the way the films landed, and there’s a whole lot of Navajo Joe that’s just as misguided.
Of all the spaghetti westerns thrown into the 1966 Tournament of Film (which also includes Django, The Big Gundown, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), Navajo Joe is ultimately the weakest link. In an attempt at total honesty, I’ll admit I’m not particularly fond of westerns as a whole, though certain works by Eastwood, Ford, and Leone have swayed me over the years. Walking into Navajo Joe with an open mind was easy, particularly considering Quentin Tarantino’s fondness for Sergio Corbucci and his westerns.
Fairly less in tune with what most individuals, including myself, are accustomed to from spaghetti westerns, Navajo Joe plays more like a weird vengeance narrative than anything else, even though it never bothers to totally flesh that out. A group of bandits goes around killing Natives and selling their scalps for money, and Navajo Joe starts taking ‘em out one by one. There’s a good chance that the script’s weakness and lack of memorable dialogue comes from the fact that Corbucci didn’t actually write it as he did with Django the same year.
More problematic than a weak script is a leading performance that’s lacking in charisma from Burt Reynolds, whose use of brownface proves a major distraction while viewing this in 2016. One of the film’s most hilarious moments is a scene in which Joe tries making a statement about him being a real American and, thus, able to be a sheriff, likely to be scoffed at by any native who saw the actor covered in bronzer. But one can’t place all the blame on him, as the narrative bounces every which way, almost taking more interest in all of the supporting characters while forcing Reynolds into a performance that doesn’t feel at home in this movie.
It’s all about Aldo Sambrell’s villain in Navajo Joe, as the actor steals away the story every single moment he’s on the screen. His performance as Mervyn ‘Vee’ Duncan is the film’s one true highlight and it’s the kind of role that makes you wish the whole film had been about him and his crew tearing the world apart in a gruesome fashion; no commentary, no morals, just gratuitous violence in a western world.
Sambrell isn’t the only thing of worth that the film features, occasionally delivering some inspired shots and set pieces and indulging in all sorts of violence for scenes that are genuinely entertaining. There’s also something to be said about the way Corbucci creates tension between individuals with mere discussion, but much like everything else here, it’s something he showcases better in his other films, notably Django. Even Morricone’s score is a mixed bag, bouncing between good and totally forgettable. It’s one piece of music, featuring Navajo Joe’s name being repeated time and time again over the accompanying tune, that grows as grating as the film does in its short length.
Dismissing Navajo Joe entirely would be unfair, because it certainly could be a film of interest to many individuals (including Tarantino, who utilized pieces of music from the film in his own Kill Bill Vol. 2), but it’s a lackluster work of art alongside other films of its kind, and even weaker when placed alongside a film as essential and revolutionary as Daisies is. In this case, there’s no competition. Corbucci barely had time to draw his weapon before being shot down by Chytilová in a duel where his bullets probably weren’t even loaded.
The winner: Daisies
Both films are in print, but the easiest way to track down a copy of Daisies is as a part of the Criterion Eclipse 32 box set, Pearls of the Czech New Wave.
Daisies; directed by Věra Chytilová; written by Věra Chytilová, Ester Krumbachová, and Pavel Juráček; starring Jitka Cerhová, Ivana Karbanová, Marie Češková, Jiřina Myšková, and Marcela Březinová; 76 minutes.
Navajo Joe; directed by Sergio Corbucci; written by Fernando di Leo and Piero Regnoli (as Dean Craig); starring Burt Reynolds
Aldo Sambrell, Nicoletta Machiavelli. Tanya Lopert, and Fernando Rey; 93 minutes.