It’s been a long time coming, but we are finally ready to declare a champion in the 1966 Tournament of Films. Both competitors made it to the finals by defeating the top two seeds in the tournament: 3-seed Au hasard Balthazar (aka Sad Donkey) got in by bouncing 2-seed The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, while 5-seed Daisies (aka Bad Girls) knocked out the top-seeded art film juggernaut Persona. So, as with the previous ToF, each staff writer will cast their vote to one of the two finalists, with the film getting the most votes being crowned champion. That said, let’s go to the votes…
Unlike the last Tournament of Films, this decision is actually incredibly difficult—these two films are in the running for my number one of the year as a whole, with previous contestant Persona being the most serious competition they face. On the one hand, Daisies remains powerfully, excitingly anarchic, envisioning liberation and feminism as not stern lecturing but ecstatic merry-making, a revolution so completely enraptured in the world that its joy becomes a revolutionary force itself. It’s a landmark in experimental film, and as a woman, a constant source of strength and excitement. Au hasard Balthazar is just as powerful, but less specific, more broad—it’s a parable emphasizing the strength of the suffering, the goodness of simplicity and the purity of acceptance. In many ways, they couldn’t be more different, one full of effervescent (but spectacularly sharp) happiness and the other an ode to pain and its nobleness. At the end of the day the choice comes down to personal countenance—I suppose, on some level, I prefer the suffering. Daisies was (and remains) a lighthouse in a world of joyless and staid art house cinema, a spotlight showing what can really be done when a smile is given the same worth as a self-serious frown. But when I think about Balthazar, I remember his sainthood, and I remember his moments of perfect service, and my heart swells up as he lays to rest in a ring of sheep, his perfection and compassion for the cruelest of beings an example, a lesson, an unattainable ideal. We should all hope to be like Balthazar one day. AHB 1-0 DAI
If there is a single character in this world more pure than Balthazar, I do not know of them. Balthazar’s journey is a long and strenuous one, taken through every hardship one can expect a poor donkey to go through. And yet, as engrossing as the tale of this saintly figure is, and as much as I’m certain the image Robert Bresson painted with Au hasard Balthazar‘s final minutes will never leave me, Daisies is, well, a revolution of its very own. As if to directly contrast Bresson’s litany of woes—packaged ever so beautifully in a film that quietly depicts the cruelty of humanity—Vera Chytilová offers a flurry of excitement, an utter stampede of anarchic thrills that never cease to impress me on every level. From the first time I saw it in class, years ago, to my most recent viewing on 35mm, Daisies has never lost the momentum it initially delivered and it’s impossible to deny the immense impact on art that it has had. As much as I loathe being another person to beat down a poor donkey, my heart belongs to Marie & Marie. AHB 1-1 DAI
I can’t believe it’s come to this. The crazy Czech girls and the sad donkey must square off in the final death match. What a joy though to have two opposing films—foreign language no less—get so far and be so distinct in their own sensibilities. They really are opposites. The monochromatic control characteristic of all Bresson’s signature masterpieces takes center stage in Au hasard Balthazar. It is the work of a master. Every cut, every choice feels so deliberate. While emotionally loaded, the film is spare, specific and simple. Věra Chytilová’s Daisies, on the other hand, is saturated anarchy incarnate. It is a hectic collage of dadaist imagery delivered at breakneck pace which sizzles with feminine rebellion and cinematic abandon. It’s a wild, sugar rush of a movie. Utterly madcap and constantly surprising. With every cut comes an unexpected flourish or development. Even at a brief 76 minutes, the film can be exhausting to keep up with and borders on being flat-out irritating. Balthazar, in contrast, is paced to perfection. Bresson’s meditation of human cruelty is constructed like a Swiss watch and hits every beat of its somber drum without fail. I watched both of these movies for the first time for this Tournament of Films and saw them in quick succession. While Bresson’s film is undoubtedly the better made and better told of the two it is also the more conventional and representative of the Old Guard. Daisies, meanwhile, is messy, unruly and utterly stubborn in its refusal to play by the rules. It feels youthful, new and exciting in ways that Balthazar doesn’t. It has an attitude and personality that is very hard not to be swayed by. It feels like 1966. And with that, poor old Balthazar the sad donkey must take another painful blow the hide. My pick, with a pie to Bresson’s face, is Daisies. AHB 1-2 DAI
Back when I was putting the bracket for the tournament together, I predicted an all-European final, just not with these two movies. Both my predicted finalists ended up losing in the semi-finals. So now I find myself at a critical impasse. I quite liked these very different films, admiring both the stoic elegance of Robert Bresson’s mise-en-scene and the giddy nose-thumbing of Věra Chytilová’s. These two movies are so evenly matched in all relevant categories that I can’t even default to my own bullshit tiebreaker and just declare the shortest one the winner, because both are pretty brisk (although I hesitate to call something with the world-weary moodiness of Au hasard Balthazar brisk). Clearly I need to look at this from a new angle. Now, maybe the championship match of our second Tournament of Films is a bad time to introduce a curveball into my repertoire, so to speak, but dammit, this is my website, and this is my capsule, and I’ll vote however I damn well please, using the method I damn well please. So let’s cast an esotericist’s eye on this match-up. Balthazar the donkey, aside from being the ideal Bressonian actor, is the personification of Strength. The saint-like fortitude, the indiscriminate compassion, the bravery inherent in keepin’ on truckin’. The two Maries from Daisies remind me of the Tower, representative of a major upheaval masquerading as a destructive force (albeit a very surreal and colorful one), ready to burn everything to the ground, salt the earth, and start anew. And in this little hypothetical situation I’ve carved out here, the ToF’s Big Championship Belt is… the World, I guess? The ultimate symbol of perfect oneness? Sure, let’s go with that. This is already starting to not hold water, so I’ll just say this: Balthazar was wise and strong, the the Maries were wise and strong enough to try and tear it all down because the deck was stacked against them, going down in a blaze of glory that reflected the rulers’ decadence for the grotesquerie it was, so I have to give it to Daisies for sheer gumption. Also Balthazar, as affecting as its ending is, doesn’t end with a foodfight. AHB 1-3 DAI
The choice between Daisies and Au hasard Balthazar for Tournament of Films’ champion is not easy. On the one hand, Daisies is a politically and structurally revolutionary statement that proclaims the anarchic beauty of bad behavior and radical visibility of formerly bored women. Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar, on the other hand, depicts parallel suffering across species lines to construct an existentially moving tale about a very sad donkey. These are both exemplary films and I’d rather call it a draw, but I have to pick one. And so I cast my vote for Balthazar which moves me at every turn, makes me want to strangle a guy for lighting a donkey’s tail on fire and features said donkey doing basic arithmetic. Daisies, while visually adventurous and gleefully odd, never hit me in the same way. As profound and energetic as I think Vĕra Chytilová’s film is, Au hasard Balthazar gets my vote for sheer emotional power. AHB 2-3 DAI
And there you have it! Daisies sneaks by Au hasard Balthazar 3-2 to officially become the Best Movie of 1966. Thanks to everyone who contributed, and we’ll see you next time we decide to hold one of these.