Breaking Rules with Daisies

Writer-actor Ali Vingiano, who's now starring in The End of Us, on her deep love of Věra Chytilová’s feminist Czech New Wave classic.

They say you should only go into entertainment if you absolutely cannot do anything else. Wanting is not enough to sustain such a painful existence. It must be a need.

I wanted to act the first time I saw a play (a high school production of Annie). I wrote my first screenplay when I was 13 (an adaptation of the novel Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen). A few years after that, I made my first short film, with my family’s camcorder. My passion was clear and unfailing. Just as unfailing was the fear. Nobody makes it as a screenwriter, I thought, let alone a girl with no connections and apparently not even enough talent to get parts in the high school musicals, aside from “Chorus” or “Brother #12.” I hid my dreams like they were cigarettes — deep in a dark drawer, afraid of what my parents would think if they discovered them.

So I listened to the aforementioned saying about showbiz, and I tried doing something else. I ended up at a liberal arts college, studying politics. Not only was it a sensible path, but I genuinely cared about improving the world. I dreamed of being an international human rights lawyer or running for office. I took my passion for writing and performing to more pragmatic places, like the school newspaper and debate club. Then, on a whim, during my sophomore year I auditioned for a production of Closer. Against all odds, I was cast as Alice, one of the leads. I’d spent years afraid of the thing I loved most, only to be thrust headfirst into it. It confirmed what I already knew: I had to at least try. I had to give myself a shot at the life I dreamed of. I signed up for every film and theater class available. I kept my major, but changed my minors to film studies and theatre arts.

Ali Vingiano during the making of her latest film as an actress, The End of Us. (Photo courtesy Ali Vingiano.)

My film classes were filled with rules: I wasn’t allowed to write comedy in my screenwriting class, for some reason. In my directing class, we learned how to not break the line. In editing, we learned about continuity. In acting, we learned the right way to repeat lines to each other (yes, there can be a wrong way to do this – thank you, Meisner). These rules, albeit frustrating at times, provided structure and comfort for me. I could tell if I was improving and if my professors liked me. Not only that, but I felt like I was part of a new club. The 180-degree rule, eye trace, three-act structure, rule of thirds. I was starting to speak the language of those I admired, and it felt good.

When it came time to choose where to study abroad, I sensibly picked a program that would combine politics and film. I headed to Prague to study Post-Communism and the Arts. As part of the program, I got to study at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. I was giddy on my first day. I met my incredible mentor, film historian Michal Bregant, who weeks later showed me Daisies, Věra Chytilová’s 1966 Czech film about women causing chaos.

Ali Vingiano during her time studying in Prague. (Photo courtesy Ali Vingiano.)

In the opening scene of Daisies, two bored young women, both named Marie, decide that the world has gone bad. This means, they say, that they’re going bad, too. The rest of the film is a self-destructive series of visually stunning and surreal vignettes of the two female friends wreaking havoc for their own personal amusement. And because the men around them never suspect these sweet girls could be capable of harm, the Maries face no consequences.

Daisies breaks every conventional rule of filmmaking and storytelling. The film cuts locations from a field to a bed, without narratively interrupting the scene; it’s cut like a music video at times (without the music), and in one sequence, the Maries cut off each other’s limbs with scissors, as if they were paper dolls. It’s funny, weird, colorful, experiential, mysterious, and dangerous.

Ivana Karbanová and Jitka Cerhová in Věra Chytilová’s Daisies.

Daisies came into my life and deconstructed every rule I’d been taught. I imagined its director, Věra Chytilová, staring into my face saying: Rules? What are rules? Fuck your rules. In fact, Chytilová was so unconcerned with rules that the film was banned by the Czech government at the time for conveying “anarchy” and for wasting food (there is a very extensive food fight scene).

Chytilová’s film creates its own world for women, one where they aren’t judged or limited, but rather are free to live and act however they want with no consequences. It’s an hour and 15 minutes of total feminist freedom, a break from the restricting reality of our world. Věra Chytilová, the woman who wrote and directed Daisies, resisted the word “feminist,” but let the movie speak for itself. At that point in my life, there were very few female auteurs I could point to for inspiration. In my film classes, we watched Orson Wells and Elia Kazan, not Agnès Varda or Chantal Akerman. It gave me hope knowing that a woman had created such a singular work that broke every convention and lasted through the ages to be taught to students like me.

Ali Vingiano shooting her thesis film in college. (Photo courtesy Ali Vingiano.)

I watched Daisies like it was medicine, as if it could cure my fear and doubt if I saw it enough times. It became a comfort, a necessity, the greatest piece of inspiration for my own work. It sparked something within me I hadn’t yet accessed: the reality that I can choose what I create, and that I can both desire and achieve total … fucking … freedom. There is nothing safe about the movie, and I wanted to stop being so safe in my own work, too.

When I returned to school months later and began working on my thesis project, I unsurprisingly wrote and shot something experiential. It was a film filled with surrealist visuals about a woman becoming obsessed with a photographer taking pictures of her, and who melds identities with her until she’s unsure who she is. Beyond that, it’s about how consumerism purposefully creates envy and self-doubt in people in order to perpetuate itself. Needless to say, it reeks of “21-year-old who just discovered Daisies.”

Ali Vingiano on the set of The Morning Show. (Photo courtesy Ali Vingiano.)

In my career now, writing for The Morning Show and acting in the SXSW ’21 feature The End of Us, I participate in more conventional storytelling. But that 21-year-old is still inside of me, influencing everything I do in small ways. Writing on a professional level has convinced me that a thorough understanding of structure is the greatest single tool a writer can obtain. But because of Daisies, I also believe you should acquire that knowledge, let it run through your veins, and then blow it the fuck up.

Ali Vingiano is a writer, filmmaker, and actor, born in NYC and now living in Los Angeles. She currently writes for the Emmy-winning series The Morning Show, and serves as an on-set producer. Previously, she was a Field Producer for The Daily Show spinoff The Opposition w/ Jordan Klepper, traveling the country directing and producing correspondent segments. She’s currently developing her first feature film as writer/director with Park Pictures. She stars in the largely improvised feature film The End of Us, which premiered at SXSW 2021 and is out now on digital and on demand. She also created and stars in dozens of short films and viral videos, both independently and for BuzzFeed Motion Pictures and Glamour Magazine, which have earned Vimeo Staff Picks and have played in festivals worldwide. (Photo by Katie McCurdy.)