In the aftermath of World War II, a former Czech soldier takes charge of a manor formerly owned by a German family. He falls in love with the daughter, who is now a maid, and is forced to ... See full summary »
In a Carpathian village, Ivan falls in love with Marichka, the daughter of his father's killer. When tragedy befalls her, his grief lasts months; finally he rejoins the colorful life around... See full summary »
Husband (senior ministry official) and wife find their house is riddled with listening devices put there by his own ministry. A harrowing night follows (reminiscent of 'Who's Afraid Of ... See full summary »
Kopfrkingl enjoys his job at a crematorium in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s. He likes reading the Tibetan book of the dead, and espouses the view that cremation relieves earthly ... See full summary »
Mikolás and his brother Adam rob travelers for their tyrannical father Kozlík. During one of their "jobs" they end up with a young German hostage whose father escapes to return news of the kidnapping and robbery to the King. Kozlik prepares for the wrath of the King, and sends Mikolás to pressure his neighbor Lazar to join him in war. Persuasion fails, and in vengeance Mikolás abducts Lazar's daughter Marketa, just as she was about to join a convent. The King, meantime, dispatches an army and the religious Lazar will be called upon to join hands against Kozlik. Stripped-down, surreal, and relentlessly grimy account of the shift from Paganism to Christianity. Written by
Joyojeet Pal <email@example.com>
UK DVD label Second Run which specializes in rare Eastern European classics have, over the last couple of years, released a handful of films I have long yearned to watch (and which, as a result of this viewing of MARKETA LAZAROVA, I've just ordered online): Aleksander Ford's KNIGHTS OF THE TEUTONIC ORDER (1960; a disc which despite its being trimmed by the BBFC and in an altered aspect ratio, I couldn't sensibly forego), Jerzy Kawalerowicz's MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS (1961; their very first release which I purchased in London last year), Jan Nemec's THE PARTY AND THE GUESTS (1966) and, debuting in a few days' time, Miklos Jancso's THE ROUND-UP (1965).
Unlike these movies, I wasn't consciously aware of MARKETA LAZAROVA when the infectious buzz about its impending release hit the Internet but, as I later found out, the film was actually mentioned, ever so fleetingly, in one of my father's old movie magazines. Again, when the DVD was eventually released, there was a negative vibe about the alleged visual deficiencies of Second Run's disc but, in hindsight, these were quite needlessly exaggerated. Ultimately, an awesome and, as it turned out, essential movie experience such as this one deserves to be seen right away and to keep waiting for that perfectly pristine print to rear its unlikely head is utterly pointless. Alas, the Czech New Wave is still a largely undiscovered segment of cinema history for me so I am not in a position to suitably assess whether MARKETA LAZAROVA is indeed the greatest Czech movie ever made (as it had been judged in a 1998 poll among 100 native film critics). Suffice it to say that this ostensibly obscure film has by now figured in a number of published all-time best polls and, consequently, its status is deservedly well-established. Hopefully, as it was in my case, Second Run's DVD will serve as the introduction to many an adventurous film enthusiast in the future
Since my overall experience of MARKETA LAZAROVA was such a positive one, it seems only right to get my quibbles with the film out of the way first and there are basically two of them: a muddled storyline which, for most of the film's first half, left me rather perplexed as to which of the two warring factions the characters whose exploits I was following on screen belonged and, while things got clearer as time went by, the individuals themselves (with the obvious exception of the titular character) did not exactly garner much sympathy. I suppose that for a movie with a running time of almost three hours these flaws would usually be significantly detrimental to one's enjoyment of the whole: however, the definite impression I was left with while watching was that, despite the eponymous title, the director's intent was not to narrate a conventional life history but actually to create a visual tapestry of the medieval era onto celluloid and, in this regard, to say that he succeeded would be the understatement of the year. In fact, along with Andrei Tarkovsky's ANDREI RUBLEV (shot in 1965 but actually unreleased until 1972), I'd venture to say that MARKETA LAZAROVA is the most convincingly realized cinematic portrait of those turbulent times, distinguishing Frantisek Vlacil's vision as an overwhelmingly expansive and stunningly visual one.
In this context, it is quite appropriate that the titular character (played by a future Presidential candidate, the beautiful Magda Vasaryova) is practically silent for most of the film; she is first seen about to enter into a holy order but is eventually abducted, raped and impregnated by the feral Mikolas (who was actually raised by wolves) whom she comes to love eventually. Another parallel and equally unlikely relationship we are witness to is the one which blossoms between the earthy Alexandria (who is also involved in some brief but startling instances of full-frontal nudity) and her young, aristocratic captive who happens to be a German Bishop; it is worth noting here that Alexandria had already almost cost the life of her brother Adam when his own father had severed his arm in punishment for their incestuous coupling! Interestingly, the film is divided into two parts respectively entitled "Straba" and "The Lamb Of God" and punctuated by frequent, verbose, half Dickensian-half picaresque chapter headings, not to mention the presence on the soundtrack of a bemused narrator who, at one point, even takes on the role of God while interacting with a monk! This is not the only instance of whimsical inventiveness present in MARKETA LAZAROVA perhaps adopted by the director to counter the oppressively bleak ambiance created by the forbidding snowy landscape and dense forest settings which can actually claim to be the film's true main characters. As I said previously, striking images abound throughout: the intermittent, sinister appearance of the pack of wolves is impressively eerie, the distraught monk looking for his lamb and eventually losing her decapitated head down a clifftop, a horse drowning in a puddle on a deserted no man's land, the camera occasionally taking on a feverishly first person viewpoint according to the character at hand, the effective use of unheralded off-kilter compositions (including a totally bizarre arrow-in-the-eye shot!), etc. Having said that, Zdenek Liska's choral, percussive and electronic score is equally imaginative and, as a result, extraordinarily complementary to the uniquely sombre spectacle on constant display.
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