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I saw this last night at the American Cinematheque as part of their tribute to screenwriter Pavel Juracek, and I have to say WOW. I was thoroughly impressed, completely engrossed from the first frame. The Cinematheque's schedule described this as "MAD MAX directed by Andrei Tarkovsky", which isn't far from the mark.
The actress who played the Old Lady, the leader of the amazons, has one of the most beautifully expressive faces I have ever seen onscreen, and this quality was only emphasized by the razor sharp black-&-white cinematography that brought out every tiny detail of emotional nuance. I found myself imagining that the Old Lady had been the teacher at an all-girl elementary school, and that after the Apocalypse she had merely extended her role of den mother into chief of the amazons' little tribe.
The actresses who play her young charges, nearly all apparently amateurs (only a few have any other film credits), are all attractive to a greater or lesser degree, but not in a slick, Hollywood way. They're like healthy, athletic peasant girls and farmer's daughters. Many appear to be expert equestrians - how to describe the thrill of seeing one of them mount a galloping horse sans saddle or stirrups? Of particular note is the young woman who played Barboura, the Old Lady's heir apparent, a statuesque red(?)head, a Balkan Sophia Loren. What a shame that she and nearly all of the other amazons made only this film and no others. They're all completely believable in their roles as young women transformed by the rigors and loneliness of their post-apocalyptic environment into hardened, even cruel near-barbarians (all without any male influence, mind you).
A word of caution for animal lovers: there all several scenes in which real animals - a snake, a cow - are actually killed onscreen, and very graphically. By today's standards this may seem callous, even evil, but in the context of the film I can understand how the filmmakers might have felt justified in doing so as these killings make the point of who these women are and what they've become (unlike, say, some of the egregious mondo thrills of onscreen animal slaughter in nearly every Italian cannibal film ever made). As for the dog mentioned by a previous reviewer, I'm uncertain whether or not it was killed. It may have been merely snared by one leg and pulled down to simulate its being shot, and it does appear to still be breathing after one of the amazons knocks its skull in just below the frameline; but it's hard for me to imagine an animal in such obvious distress being well-trained enough to suddenly go quiet after a 'pretend' blow to the head with a rifle butt. Besides, it's obviously a malnourished mutt and earlier in the film one of the actresses does connect with its head when she hurls a small log at it. Well, you can be the judge if you ever have a chance to see the film - which, if it does come up, I highly recommend you take.
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