*No garlic Sourdough French bread – soak in cold water, wring out then shred Giblets (liver-heart) – boil in water 5-10 min then chop 1 whole or ½ onion – chop (with “parsarly”) Four stalk celery – chop together Following spices – put in rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, oregano, poultry season, salt, pepper, grated cheese (parmesan, one handful) ½ lb. – ¼ lb. ground round – put in frying pan, brown (no oil) then mix Raisin – 1 ½ cups or more Walnuts, chestnuts, and pine nuts – 1 cup chop nuts 1 or 2 hard boiled eggs – chopped Mix together – salt & pepper inside chicken or turkey; outside same and butter
– Marilyn Monroe’s stuffing recipe, c. 1955 or 1956
I’ve been thinking about forcemeat. What a word! Grotesque, visceral, and bordering on unsettling in its carnal imagery. To me, perfect. A paean to protein, forcemeat is the emulsified meatstuffs that make up the greatest hits of culinary body horrors: your sausages, your terrines, your pâtés, etc. Forcemeat and its cousin “stuffing” both derive from the French farcir—to stuff. As far as straightforward gastronomical terms are concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than stuffing. It wasn’t until the 16th century, however, that stuffing became the standard English term for the dish. Prior to then, it was known as farce.
The culinary definition of farce still exists today, though you’ll probably only find it in its native France or leafing through cookbooks. It has since been eclipsed by the ludicrous comedic genre. So how can we account for farce’s circuitous etymological path from gastronomy to comedy? In 15th century France farces were bits of buffoonery “stuffed” or “padded” by actors into lengthy religious dramas. The nascent genre would spread across Europe over the next few hundred years, ballooning from sporadic gags to hours of wall-to-wall laughs, eventually settling in comfortably to a successful and diverse style of film.
A small part of me wishes the term’s development had been as absurd as the genre it engendered, or at least hadn’t strayed so far from the source. Imagine, to lighten the mood amid hours of sober dramaturgy, the inclusion of, for example, forcemeat among the players. If one can farce a goose or a pie, why not a 17th century actor’s maw? Fortunately, in the centuries since, filmmakers have embraced the ways in which food can be downright farcical, whether it’s the wit and horseplay on display at a dinner party, or the absurdity of a can of vegetables asserting an inalienable truth: I can suck my own dick, and I do it a lot.
Still, I resolved to consider a work that remained etymologically faithful to its culinary roots. A farce that could not only embrace the intersection of absurdism and gourmandizing, but also feel tonally similar to words like “stuffing” and “forcemeat”—grotesque, uncomfortable, impishly delightful: Daisies.
One of the more surreal and anarchic products of the Czech New Wave, Věra Chytilová’s 1966 film Daisies (Sedmikrásky) is a 76-minute smorgasbord of its two protagonists, the Brunette Marie I (Jitka Cerhová)and the Blonde Marie II (Ivana Karbanová). When the young women aren’t feasting at restaurants or destroying banquet halls, they’re almost always enjoying a nosh, or at least sipping on a couple Pilsners Urquell.
When we meet the two Maries—seated doll-like, limbs akimbo—they’re engaging in some angsty, staccato philosophizing. “Nobody understands anything.” “Nobody understands us!” The pair settles on a thesis that drives their ensuing destructive antics: the world as they know it has irrevocably gone to rot, so they will become spoiled and rotten too. “If everything’s going bad we’re going bad as well—right!” These agents of chaos pursue their goal in a nonlinear fashion, with Chytilová opting for visually arresting vignettes over a conventional narrative arc. The women take great zeal in their mischief, getting hammered at a cabaret and overshadowing the performers, pranking suitors, and heckling strangers. On each episodic adventure the Maries leave a path of detritus, food scraps, and broken hearts, the whole time bobbing their heads and giggling like Woody Woodpecker.
In her essay “Banquet of Profanities: Food and Subversion in Věra Chytilová’s Daisies,” Katarina Soukup describes Daisies as, in an inspired fit of verbiage, “a flatulent and blasphemous cinematic corpus.” In other words, the film is just stuffed. Like a turkey’s asshole packed with bread or an animal ground and pumped into its own intestines, the excesses of Daisies are ludicrous to behold. In one scene, the women bathe in a tub full of milk, lapping at the drink while snacking on sliced bread, effectively blurring the boundary between the body and what it ingests. Here consumption is corporeal to the point of becoming sickening.
The omnipresent food in the film doesn’t serve to sate or nourish; it is merely an engine for absurdity. This can be seen in the lavish dinner scenes that pepper the film. Over the course of a series of dates, the Brunette goes to a tiny restaurant with anonymous sugar daddy-types. Her impish counterpart crashes the affair, and the two indulge while the flummoxed gents are left there blinking—the men, of course, foot the bill. The meals are as extravagant as they are bewildering, with courses arriving willy-nilly, if not all at once (at one meal, cake is followed by soup is followed by a roast chicken). Sometimes it’s not restaurant fare at all, like the tray of apples that greets the diners.
The women prove to be charming yet unhinged dining companions, stealing off the plates of other restaurant-goers, snipping one man’s handkerchief, and often eschewing silverware. Before the Blonde digs into the chicken with her bare hands, she punches it for good measure. (“I love food,” she exclaims as her companion’s angered date wipes cake shrapnel off of his face. “I love eating.”) Anything less than unhindered gluttony is out of the question; when the Brunette’s first date makes an attempt at more civilized dining decorum—just a glass of wine for the lady, not a bottle—she blanches at the restriction. Afterwards, as an insult to injury, the women ditch the men at the train station before the implied exchange of a meal for sex can occur.
The humiliation of men recurs throughout Daisies, with food at the center of their degradation. When a piano-playing lepidopterist professes his love for Marie II—“Without you my life is torture”—it’s met with shrugging indifference: “Have you got any food?” Later, dissatisfied with small pranks and petty thievery, the women long to “do something big.” With the nebbish young man’s phone call as a backdrop, the Maries set fire to crepe paper streamers and sausage links hung from their ceiling.
In a scene that would distress the most stolid of mohels, the pair castrates and consumes a series of not-so-subtly phallic foodstuffs—the aforementioned encased meat, rolls, pickles, bananas—and a boiled egg for good measure. Meanwhile, the infatuated suitor proclaims, “Now I know what love is.” Batting her eyelashes, Marie I asks her friend euphemistically, “Another piece of meat?” Ratcheting up the ridiculousness, the Blonde takes aim with her scissors at the Brunette’s sausage-like big toe, emphasizing the carnal butchering in which they’ve just participated. Unfulfilled by their mutilated spread and willfully ignoring the caller’s declarations, the women’s meal ends in a surreal, silly climax when they swallow down glossy images of food snipped from a magazine. They nonchalantly repose among ashen remains, fruit, and food scraps. Food is not just fully consumed in Daisies: it tumbles, is mangled and castrated, sits to rot.
As each prank and disruption unfolds, Marie I and II’s hyperbolic gluttony is only matched by the resultant destruction left in their wake. This is nowhere clearer than in Daisies’s climax, wherein the protagonists crash a banquet hall and destroy the place. After laying waste to a lavish spread of highly adorned dishes (mostly indistinguishable meat products, jellified terrines, and something shaped into a swan), Daisies reaches its logical, orgiastic conclusion of consumption meets chaos with a food fight. Then, its illogical conclusion: a fashion show. Having turned the dining table into a makeshift catwalk, the women stomp on broken dishes and mangled foodstuffs, digging their heels into bird carcasses (a literal imagining of “forcemeat” if I ever heard one) and dancing to jangly surfer rock. The scene encapsulates the dual innovation and destructiveness of the protagonists, a combination Chytilová called “two sides of the same coin” during the 2002 Prague on Film Festival in London. The sheer excess and mayhem of it all might be overkill if it didn’t look so damn fun.
Daisies enjoyed some brief success before being snuffed out by Communist authorities, who prevented the film from further exhibition. They didn’t explicitly object to the flamboyant wildness of it all, nor the mod psychedelia, but, they claimed, the food waste. Deputy Jaroslav Pružinec, a member of the National Assembly, poo-pooed the film’s orgiastic feasts “at a time when our farmers with great difficulties are trying to overcome the problems of our agricultural production.” This critique fails to consider for whom the elaborate meals in Daisies are actually intended. On her series of prank dates, Marie I and II finagle free meals out of wealthy, lecherous older men. More strikingly, the elegant banquet they crash is presumably intended for the Communist nation’s elite ruling class, to which the Maries only gain access by sneaking into a dumbwaiter.
Pružinec’s disingenuous defense of in the name of egalitarian dogma is lousy with irony. To call the film “wasteful” willfully ignores the very real excesses of the powerful few at the top. Daisies’s post-dedication seems to anticipate and presciently undermine the governmental criticisms: “This film is dedicated to all those whose sole source of indignation is a trampled-on trifle.” (Another translation speaks to “all those soured by the sight of trampled down lettuce,” but the point still stands.) Through ridiculous means and disorienting effects, Daisies subverts the hypocrisies of the elite ruling class as well as the patriarchal order.
Chytilová has called Daisies a “philosophical documentary in the form of a farce.” Indeed, the farcical behavior of its protagonists is undeniable, starting with the exaggerated, sing-song way they communicate with the world and each other—often parroting existential claims about their existence (“We exist! We exist!”) and environment (“Nothing matters!”)—down to their fanciful, carefree gait. As we’ve seen, their attempts to be as “bad” as the world around them (some people just want to see the world burn etc., even if it’s their own bedroom décor) are hyperbolic to the point of lunacy. This disconnect from propriety—and reality—is exacerbated by the film’s experimental form.
As mentioned, Daisies relies on a nonlinear narrative to explore what we could loosely call a plot. In an essay for Camera Obscura, Bliss Cua Lim contends that this nonlinearity—as well as other disorienting effects—creates an inherently nonsensical backdrop: “Disjunctive montage, jump cuts, unstable spatial relations, abrupt changes in color tone…present the spectator with a picaresque narrative that at times seems to border on incoherence.” Recurring locations that would typically create stability, such as the restaurant and the Maries’ apartment, are undermined by constantly shifting color tints and other transformations. Their bedroom is at times an indoor garden, leaves and drawings of plants plastered to the wall, or an address book come to life, scribbled floor to ceiling with phone numbers. While the women themselves aim to disrupt their static surroundings, their personal space is already chaotic and dynamic.
Adding to the visual absurdity are the abrupt, frequent changes in tonality—from black and white to color to kaleidoscopic filters. Certain sudden movements—the breaking of a glass, the punching of a chicken—shock the screen into color or trigger a freewheeling montage of objects, like tumbling apples or preserved butterflies. Similarly, like flipping a light switch, the Maries’ babydoll dresses (of which they have a seemingly never-ending supply) sometimes suddenly change mid-scene.
As time and space are unstable and incoherent in Daisies, the food-centric scenes ironically provide some sort of order to the film. “In this cyclical and non-linear narrative,” writes Soukup, “food is the dominant structuring principle: the film is practically a non-stop pig-out.” The incessant feasting rides the line between silly (say, the women nonchalantly munching on carrots like Bugs Bunny) and stomach-churning (the pair squelching their hands into mounds of beef tartare with egg yolks). The experience of watching Daisies skirts that same boundary: mildly repulsive and very fun. In this way, Daisies captures the subversive nature of the farce as a generic form, combining absurdity with teeth.
“One should try everything,” one of the Maries suggests during the film, and they do, eating their way through a surreal, disjointed Prague, merry-making, and wreaking havoc. Bookending Daisies are images of real-life government-sanctioned violence—bombs exploding and buildings crumbling—that minimize the superficial violence perpetrated against foodstuffs and dishes and reveal the real grotesquerie at the heart of the film. Their own oscillating consumption and destruction can verge on graphic, but it’s still an absurdist fantasy compared to the real thing. If the world is going to rot, Daisies suggests, all that’s left to do is dig in.