Monday, August 26, 2019

2019 Blind Spot Series: Marketa Lazarova

Based on the novel by Vladislav Vancura, Marketa Lazarova is the story of a lord’s daughter who had been kidnapped by knights from a different clan leading to an intense feud between the two factions during medieval times. Directed by Frantisek Vlacil and screenplay by Vlacil and Frantisek Pavlicek, the film is an exploration of a young woman caught up in the middle of a war where she’s become the pawn of this bloody conflict with Magda Vasaryova starring in the titular role and narration by Zdenek Stepanek. Also starring Josef Kemr, Frantisek Velecky, Nad’a Hejna, and Jaroslav Moucka. Marketa Lazarova is an entrancing and evocative film from Frantisek Vlacil.

Set in medieval times, the film revolves around a conflict between two different factions in the Germany/Czechoslovakia border as a lord’s daughter finds herself in the middle of this conflict as it would complicate things during the course of the conflict. It’s a film that doesn’t have much of a plot in favor of exploring a period in time in which conflict was part of the norm but also the way they live their life as a way to survive regardless of how they treat other people. The film’s screenplay by Frantisek Vlacil and Frantisek Pavlicek is loose in its story though it’s mainly a two-part story about this conflict and how this young woman in Marketa Lazarova is caught in the middle where she is part of one faction and then be part of another although she is mainly a supporting character in a large ensemble filled with thieves, knights, killers, and con artists. Even the captives that include the son of a bishop becomes troubled by this conflict as he had fallen for a young woman who is part of another faction. It all play into this idea of bargaining and survival as this young woman who is dealing with all of this chaos as she turns to God for answers while Zdenek Stepanek’s narration adds some clarity into some of the loose tone of the plot which does meander at times.

Vlacil’s direction is definitely intoxicating in its imagery as it is shot on various locations in Czechoslovakia in the course of nearly 2 years as it play into the harsh conditions of wintery forests and desolate swamps. Yet, it does add a unique atmosphere into the look and tone of the film where Vlacil aims for an element of realism in these settings. The usage of the wide shots do allow Vlacil to get a lot of coverage and depth of field into the locations it would play into a world that is tranquil and serene but can also be unsettling and unforgiving at times. The locations also play into some of the battles where Vlacil uses some hand-held camera for some scenes in the film along with some long shots that goes on for a few minutes with stark imagery that often include shots of wolves getting ready to attack. It does play into moments of symbolism into what these men are dealing with a world that is about survival and keeping what they have.

Vlacil’s direction also play into religious symbolism where there’s Marketa’s father Lord Lazar (Michal Kozuch with the voice of Martin Ruzek) has his hands nailed to a door or Marketa at a Catholic convent where her father tried to enter her there for safety only to not have enough money. The religious symbolism would come to play towards the film’s ending with its usage of close-ups and medium shots while Vlacil would use these shots to play into interaction with the characters or in some surreal dream sequences that would have Marketa walking on a field naked or another female character in Alexandra (Pavla Polaskova with the voice of Karolina Sluneckova) who is the object of affection to the bishop’s son Kristian (Vlastimil Harapes with the voice of Klaus-Peter-Thiele). It would all play into this desire of leading a pure life but the atmosphere of greed and deception would still emerge with Marketa being this idea of purity as she eventually comes to term with her role but also accept a different role that would allow her to create a better future. Overall, Vlacil crafts a mesmerizing and ravishing film about a feud between factions in medieval times at the Czechoslovakian-German border with a young woman caught in the middle.

Cinematographer Bedrich Bat’ka does amazing work with the film’s black-and-white photography with its usage of natural lighting for some of the interiors as well as the usage of available light for some of the exterior shots as it is a highlight of the film. Editor Miroslav Hajek does excellent work with the editing as it has elements of jump-cuts to play into some of the action while much of the editing is straightforward. Art director Oldrich Okac, with set decorators Josef Pavlik and Vladislav Rada, does brilliant work with the look of the ruined castles and forts as well as some of the places that the characters go to.

Costume designer Theodor Pistek does fantastic work with the costumes with its ragged look of some of the knights and thieves as well as the lavish robes of some of the lords and bishops. The sound work of Frantisek Fabian is superb for its intricate approach to sound in capturing the natural elements of sound and mixing it with some sound collage to play into some of the surreal moments of the film. The film’s music by Zdenek Liska is great for its usage of Gregorian-like vocal choir chants, layers of string and percussion arrangements, and its broad orchestral sound to play into the period of the times as it is a highlight of the film.

The film’s wonderful cast feature some notable small roles from Karla Chadimova as the Abbess Priory who considers taking Marketa into her convent, Na’da Hejna as Kozlik’s wife Katerina with Antoine Hegerlikova as the voice actress for the part, Zdenek Rehor as Captain Pivo’s second-in-command in Sovicka who is attracted to Marketa, Zdenek Kryzanek as Captain Pivo who is tasked to rescue the bishop’s son, Harry Studt as the bishop whose son had been captured, and Vladimir Mensik in a terrific performance as the wandering monk Bernard who is a witness to everything as he serves as a Greek chorus of sorts to the audience while observing everything that is happening as well as provide some guidance to the characters in the film. Vlastimil Harapes, with the voice of Klaus-Peter-Thiele, is superb as the bishop’s son Kristian as a young man captured by Kozlik’s men as he would fall for Kozlik’s daughter Alexandra as he becomes confused by whom he should be loyalty to. Ivan Puluch, with the voice of Ladislav Trojan, is fantastic as Kozlik’s one-armed son Adam who is known for having an incestuous relationship with Alexandra as he’s also one of Kozlik’s fiercest knights only to deal with the turmoil of Alexandra’s relationship with Kristian.

Josef Kemr and Michael Kozuch, with the voice Martin Rusek for the latter, are excellent in their respective roles as the faction leaders Kozlik and Lazar with the former as a leader of knights who rebels against the royals while the latter is a lord loyal to the royal family who also head a gang of bandits. Pavla Polaskova, with the voice of Karolina Sluneckova, is amazing as Alexandra as Kozlik’s daughter who is a mysterious woman known for her dark look yet becomes fond of Kristian as she would see him as a beacon of hope in her dark surroundings. Frantisek Velecky, with the voice of Petr Kostka, is brilliant as Mikolas as one of Kozlik’s sons who would capture Marketa and would torture and rape only to later be protective of her as he would also question his loyalty towards his own father and their rebellion. Finally, there’s Magda Vasaryova, with the voice of Gabriela Vranova, in an incredible performance as the titular character as the daughter of a lord loyal to the royal family who finds herself used as she is sent from one faction to another as bait or bargaining as she questions her own being as well as seeking answers from God to help those she grows to care for.

Marketa Lazarova is a tremendous film from Frantisek Vlacil. Featuring a great ensemble cast, ravishing visuals, an eerie music soundtrack, stark depiction of medieval life, and naturalistic sound design. It’s a film that explores a moment in time that was brutal as it showcases how similar it is to some of the conflicts of the present day while it is told in an unconventional presentation that isn’t for everyone due to the looseness of the plot. In the end, Marketa Lazarova is a spectacular film from Frantisek Vlacil.

© thevoid99 2019


Tony said...

The only Czech film I had ever seen before working on the List was The Shop Around the Corner, but you can consider me a big booster of Czech cinema after Daisies, Fireman's Ball and Maraketa Lazarova. More than half the Czech films I've seen give me great joy, a much better ratio than what I've seen from the rest of Eastern Europe.

I was mesmerized by Maraketa Lazarova! It reminded me a lot of my favorite Russian film, Andrei Rublev, which I've seen four or five times. I want to see Maraketa Lazarova on a big screen so bad!

Sean said...

I have not seen a Czech film but this sounds interesting. I definitely like the choice to focus on the era over plot. I find medieval times to be both terrifying and fascinating but like most English-speakers my medieval knowledge is mostly about England, so to see that time from a different point of view sounds great.

Jay said...

This one was rough for me. I don't mean that I didn't like it, I could certainly appreciate it but found it kind of difficult to watch.

thevoid99 said...

@Tony-Daisies for me so far is the best Czech film that I have ever seen as I just love the sheer insanity of it. I did get a lot of reminders of Andrei Rublev upon seeing this film though I think I prefer Tarkovsky's film much more though I would love to see them both on the big screen.

@Sean-It is an interesting film as I think the idea of emphasizing on setting and atmosphere instead of plot is what makes the film work though it can be meandering at times.

@Jay-I understand your qualms as it took me hours to watch it as I haven't had a lot of sleep lately.