Frantisek Vlacil directed "Marketa Lazarova" in 1967 during a two year shoot and was adapted from the avant-garde novel by author and 1930's film director Vladislav Vancura. Set in the 13th century it is a tale of to warring clans and the eventual doomed love of Marketa and Mikolas which leads one to draw comparisons to Shakespear's "Romeo and Juliet" although markedly more barbaric and superstitious. Vlacil is not interested telling a linear story which can make it difficult to follow at times but it is also his use of dialogue or the lack thereof which gives this film an hallucinatory quality. Vlacil's real emphasis is on the poetic image to create his narrative and is what really makes this an astounding work of art and brings to mind the work of other director's like Tarkovsky (Andrei Roublev,1966); Dreyer (Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928); Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, 1954), Bergman (The Seventh Seal,1957) and Eisenstein (Ivan the Terrible,1944). "Marketa Lazarova" also incorporates elements of soviet montage with the use of animals in several sequences as metaphor. The score by Zdenek Liska who is known for his work with Jan Svankmajer is amazing, incorporating medieval church music and making "Marketa Lazarova" an operatic masterpiece.
I am now lead to believe upon viewing this film that this is truly one of the great neglected works of of Czech cinema as it is rarely shown outside of Eastern Europe. All that has been set right now by Second Run releasing it on DVD format (Well done guys, we want more!). The transfer is excellent with high contrast and a great clean soundtrack. There are no extras aside from the informative booklet but that is no cause for complaint.
Do not miss this opportunity to own a copy of this amazing film. A must for all film buffs.
on 14 January 2008
This movie from 1967, set in the 12th century, is very hypnotic due to it's vivid images (mixing wide screen landscapes, extreme close ups and moving camera), different modes of narrative (text tableaus, voice, flashbacks, memories) and eerie middle age-like music (it's actually electronic music with voices created specifically for the movie).
In this movie there are no clear cut good vs evil and no typical villains and heroes (maybe for the exception of Marketa Lazarova herself who has some saint-like innocence). The people are more the products of the harsh social and religious environment of the dark ages. The plot is better experienced than talked about in advance. Haunting, complex and spell-binding, this is a very good movie, much better than the historic epics produced by hollywood every year.
The transfer is excellent (I watched it on a projector) with beautiful black/white (it's hard to think of this movie being made in colour).
This is the kind of movie that can be watched again. There is no commentary which would have been nice, but the booklet is informative. Second Run has made a fantastic job making this 40 year old movie look like new.
At the price of £8 it's extremely good value for money. Highly recommended!
on 9 January 2008
Set in 13th century, a small group of characters are caught up in the violent feud between two neighbouring clans, two rival warlords. A young woman, Marketa, negotiates the morality of this brutal yet sensual medieval world.
Apparently Marketa Lazarova is generally agreed to be the best ever Czech film - in Czechoslovakia that is. Outside Czechoslovakia both film & director fell into neglect. To be honest I hadn't heard of this film until recently. Indeed to non-Czechs it is a perplexing film - it purports to be an "authentic" depiction of the middle ages but is not based on authentic folk tales but on an experimental modernist novel from 1930s, and the film itself was not really part of Czech new wave and yet is an extreme example of 1960s European art house style: strange camera angles, elaborate tracking shots, freeze frames, rapid cut editing etc. The narrative is very fragmented, more or less a series of random episodes containing scenes which move back & forth in time. The director was a disciple of Eisenstein & the "poetic" montage of both image and sound is incredibly complex. I had difficulty following the film and at nearly 3 hours it sometimes got a bit wearying on first viewing - I couldn't help but think I should be watching it on a really big screen in a cinema.
Nonetheless, the film does undoubtedly have an impact even on DVD - films like this simply aren't made anymore - & I've ended up watching it several times already. The cinematography is unbelievable & there are numerous extraordinary scenes - the various scenes with wolves are particularly memorable. I suppose the film belongs to that "middle ages genre" popularised by Bergman (Seventh Seal, Virgin Spring) and the Japanese (Rashomon, Sansho), but the most useful comparison I could make to anyone reading this would be with Andrei Rubliev - if you liked Tarkovsky's film you really ought to see this.
Yet another revelatory East European classic from Second Run DVD. Informative essay by Peter Hames included in booklet.
on 4 November 2009
Well! It takes your breath away, this film. It's an epic, to be sure - and what an epic. It's about three hours long, but it is so intriguing and magnificent to look at that you forget the minutes ticking away.
The visual quality is remarkable from start to finish. Endless snow, and dark pine forests - and actors being made to live in mediaeval conditions for ages before and during shooting give the film a certain 'edge' - although for me Marketa's hairstyle is unmistakably 1960s - and the film weaves a spell all of its own.
(Just for interest, compare it to 'Winstanley' - another "authentic" historical effort. Made for a tiny fraction of the cost of this one.)
'Marketa Lazarova' has to be seen - even if only once. It is a great film, using the word great in its proper sense. I doubt if it is perfect - other reviewers have pointed out the possible flaws - but once seen, it is not easily forgotten, and it's lovely that it is now available in such a beautiful print.
on 25 March 2011
Marketa Lazarová is a masterpiece. Forget the plot: it's incredibly violent, but that's largely by-and-by, because the film is narrated in such an elliptical way that we see only fragments. Indeed the climactic battle sequence, which would form about half an hour of any modern mainstream flick never appeared at all: it was replaced by a complex sequence of hallucinations.
And hallucinatory is the word. Shots of a scene from different camera angles had the same characters in totally different settings. The dialogue didn't even begin to match up with the action, and in some scenes we clearly heard an actor talking in spite of their mouth being tightly closed. And just to add to the fun, what they were 'saying' was only tangentially related to what was happening on screen. And finally, there was extraordinary usage of animals: birds, mice, fish, one very unhappy horse, sheep, deer and, most extraordinarily, a pack of 'wolves' (actually German Shepherds) who created amazing menace at pivotal moments just by standing, motionless.
So, a largely disconnected series of scenes, with only a loose connection to a story, which was very hard to follow. Why did I think it was great? Well, it's all in the cumulative weight of the hallucination, and the amazing use of images and cameras: the camera often would sail straight past the speaker to focus on some distant object which, by virtue of its sheer ordinariness, acquired a significance and weight that a more obvious 'symbol' could not. And this meant that everything in the film acquired depth and sub-text and so every image resonated with significance, no less noteworthy for the fact that it was mysterious.
So, a clear high-point in the Czech new wave, which is saying something. I want to watch it again, and I recommend that you watch it too.
I do not know why this film doesn't appear more often in the standard lists of great and top movies - what a treat to find a totally overlooked gem. Yes it's in black and white, subtitled, is self-consciously arty and worthy, and has a complex construction - but then the best things often need that extra bit of effort. I suppose this sort of sits close to Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev or The Seventh Seal, but is totally on its own as an experience. Where it really pulls you in is in not just being about the 13th Century, but in recreating it in exact detail - both its brutal glory and the sense of magic and belief and faith - feeling so real and true, and conjuring up a whole way of seeing and believing. The story is about rival clans - fighting between themselves and the state, and the consequences of a raid on some wealthy German travellers. Simple things - like snapping a broken sword and keeping the hilt after a fight...stealing horses but not being able to feed them, somehow give it an almost documentary edge - a truth. And of course, being high art, we get astonishing and haunting scenes and images too - stirring you on an even deeper level.
Expect the sights, sounds and feelings of this epic achievement to stay with you long after the final image.
on 10 November 2013
Marketa Lazarová is without a doubt one of the most beautiful medieval epic films i have ever seen. Frantisek Vlácil impressed me so much that after watching this one i immediately purchased the 4dvd box on Second Run DVD called The Frantisek Vlácil Collection. My favourite scenes are off course the ones with Magda Vásáryová who plays Marketa but for sure the dreamlike scenes where a woman strolls naked through the fields. This is pure beauty and trendsetting for a film made in 1967.
This one is highest possible recommendation, do not miss out on it or you will regret it forever as stated by Second Run this is the first-ever DVD release of Marketa Lazarová anywhere in the world.
Pure sheer beauty.
on 5 March 2013
I was expecting much more from this film than it could actually deliver in its 3 hour length,especially after many highly praising comments on amazon and imdb sites. I thought it to be something of a Czech version of the russian film "Andrei Rubliov", but it never even approaches the greatness of the A.Tarkovski's masterpiece. They are both approx. 180+ min. length, both were filmed almost at the same time (around 1966-1967)and both are medieval epics talking about Christianity and paganism of that time. If you have to choose, then A.Tarkovski's "Andrei Rubliov" is a MUCH BETTER choice, believe me!
on 4 March 2009
Regularly voted as one of the best, even the greatest ever Czech film, there can be few objections to this rating if applied only to its visual quality. Shot in black and white, the film achieves an intensity of imagery which would have escaped any use of colour. Much of the story takes place in snow, so there are extremes of contrast between the bleached out snowscape and the shadows and outline figures which move across it. There are particularly striking images of black wolves silhouetted against the intense white of the snow. Visually stunning and its mood enhanced by a mystical, quasi-monastic soundtrack of human voices and often rasping or jarring sounds, this is an outstanding piece of work, and would easily earn a 5/5 marking.
However, the storyline becomes subservient to the imagery. At times it becomes utterly pretentious. Based on a novel written in the 1930's, itself following a centuries old traditional tale, the story is set in the 13th century, and concerns two feuding Czech families who inhabit a sparsely populated stretch of countryside - there are echoes of Scottish Border reivers here. The families live in heavily fortified homesteads deep in the wilds, surrounded by forests and easily cut off by snowfall. They see themselves as righteous and upright, while living by robbery, pillage, rustling, and protection racket. While the families feud, the king attempts to bring order (and presumably) taxation to his lands, stamping out the predatory brigand families who prey on passing travellers and exert considerable political and military influence over their own small fiefdoms. Central to the story is the love affair which crosses between the duelling families - a love affair which follows a far from romantic course of kidnap, rape, imprisonment.
Director Vracil apparently took his actors to live in the forests for two years to acclimatise them to the 13th century lifestyle - it must have been a hard life working on one of his films, the actors have to run around naked and half naked in deep snow. There is certainly an amazing 'feel' to the film - the director creates a sense of 13th 'realism' ... the clothing, the buildings, the artefacts all look right, the language, even the graphics create a real sense of age and of being in the medieval era. Contrast that, however, with scenes which slip into almost hallucinogenic experiences - there's something very 1960's and acid tripping about this film (made in 1966-68).
So we have visual genius, we have tremendous atmosphere and sense of realism, we have the makings of an intensely dramatic story. Yet it never achieves its potential. The film cuts about, jumps around, you lose track of the narrative, you have to constantly play games trying to work out what has happened and why. The plot thins out, becomes fragmented, and you sense the director has become seduced by his own imagery - the visual takes precedence over the story. It, literally, loses the plot and, as viewer, an intensely moving and absorbing visual experience becomes incomprehensible in places.
Vracil makes clear contrast between black and white, yet the film suggests a merging of extremes - you appreciate that Christian and pagan images and beliefs coincided in the 13th century, that the experience of religions was emotional rather than cerebral, and that people acted in a much more 'natural' manner because they were close to nature. You get a lot of naturalistic imagery, particularly of wolves and of hunting, emphasising the image of man as predator. Certainly, in the 13th century there were fewer controls on behaviour other than weather, plague, famine, and superstitition. The rule of law might persevere within the bounds of the king's court, beyond it, the rule of might prevailed, as did the rule of men over women and of the supernatural and superstition over reason.
Marketa Lazarova is the daughter of one the feuding brigands, much loved, and destined to live in a convent to protect her from the predations and material evils of life. It is the battle for her love, body, and future which holds centre place in the film. But, unfortunately, the narrative fragments and becomes distorted. The original novel was something of an avant-garde masterpiece, the filming takes on the aspect of an action painting in that the bigger picture becomes obscured by the intensity and immediacy of each shot. It becomes a series of images rather than a cohesive storyline. You lose attention, you lose interest, you lose sympathy. Worth watching purely for its visual impact and for its use of soundtrack, but beware the loss of narrative cohesion. At over two and a half hours in length, it is a bit of an ordeal sitting through a film which confuses you and makes you work at trying to establish where the action is going. You are left with an outstanding film which is reduced to the ordinary because of its loss of narrative dynamism.
on 27 October 2015
A stunning, atmospheric, entrancing, haunting, beautiful and often brutal film, with composition and imagery that lingers in the mind long after the film is over (almost every shot could be framed; it's that good). The soundtrack is also captivating, beautiful, always apt and yet still often surprising. Possibly the best film ever set in Europe's middle ages. Certainly the best I've ever seen. I found the film riveting and recommend it highly to anyone with a love of great films.
I can only wonder how much more I'd have enjoyed it if I'd had some idea what was going on....