Marketa Lazarova (1967)

As I said recently, I get some interesting contrasts from one film to the next as I plow through the vast expanse that is my unwatched films list, and this film is no exception… like our last film, we’re in the remote past of Eastern Europe (13th century Bohemia) and the narrative turns somewhat on a feud between families, but Marketa Lazarova is far less inviting, its freezing monochrome widescreen images in marked contrast to Paradjanov’s world full of colour. It comes recommended as the best Czech film ever made, at least according to Czech critics, or at least Czech critics who aren’t this lady. Needless to say, I’m hopelessly unqualified to judge the merits of either argument, though I am fascinated by Slobodova’s claim that the film  was originally four hours long. And the backstory of the film is intriguing, too; director Frantisek Vlacil had his cast actually live the medieval life for two years before filming began (cf. Kurosawa with Red Beard). I find myself uncertain of the end result, though I take some heart from other descriptions I’ve read online about the film being confusing on first watch, cos that’s kind of how it struck me. Frankly there were bits (particularly in the first hour) I’m not sure I would’ve got without pausing to read the DVD booklet’s plot summary. Would the long version have been clearer, or just even more of a slog? I see the film compared in various places to Bergman’s Virgin Spring or Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, but it’s even less ingratiating than either of those not exactly giant popular hits. I can kind of appreciate the achievement, but while Vlacil’s film feels like a real picture of the past in the way Paradjanov’s does, it keeps itself at a far greater remove, and while it could be the sort of thing that will ultimately reward repeat viewings (if for no other reason than you’ll actually know what’s happening then), it doesn’t go out of its way to encourage them.

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