Marketa Lazarová (1967)

“I think the point about ‘Marketa Lazarová’ is that when you first see it you’re confused, and by that I mean you know that the whole story of what you’re looking at is obscured, but it’s still there, but you have to look hard.”

‘Marketa Lazarová’, directed by František Vláčil in 1967, is a long, impenetrable Czech movie that doesn’t offer many concessions to the viewer. The film is set in the Middle Ages and focuses on the power struggles between a lord and itinerant bandits. It’s difficult to summarise the plot, mainly because I get the impression that Vláčil doesn’t intend it to be easy to summarise but, much like those of Tarkovsky, the power of this movie lies in the individual scenes, with the cinematography and with the intricate texture of what appears on screen. This falls into the camp of films that present history authentically as opposed to ironically. So Tarkovsky’s ‘Andrei Rublev’ is a good parallel. The act of watching this film, the mesmerizingly slow pace and the refusal by the director to dumb-down the story or to provide exposition, makes you feel like you’re gazing into an alien world as lovingly designed and crafted as any high fantasy novelist. Highlights of the film are the dark nods towards paganism and the brief glimpses into the brutal sadism of the time. The main thing I was left with from this film though was the use of landscapes: characters become mere shapes against the brutal countryside and the atmosphere of the movie is dictated by the seasons, from the snowy chill of winter, through the dripping thaw and then back into the ice. It’s a film that makes you feel it both emotionally and almost physically. I’ve no idea what happened – but I certainly experienced it happening.

Would I recommend it? Perhaps – but be prepared to watch it more than once. Watch in a double bill with ‘Andrei Rublev’ if you’re feeling particularly masochistic or Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’ for a shorter day in front of the television.

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