Marketa Lazarová

1967 [CZECH]

Drama / History / Romance

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 100%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 87%
IMDb Rating 8 10 5041

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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by gavin6942 7 / 10

Sharp, Impressive Film

A minor Czech clan falls afoul of the King in medieval times, against the backdrop of Christianity replacing Paganism. "Marketa Lazarová" was voted the all-time best Czech movie in a prestigious 1998 poll of Czech film critics and publicists.

Although I am not a very knowledgeable person on Czech film, I have seen a few and am particularly a fan of what is known as the "New Wave". The Czechs seem to have had a brief period of being more strange and experimental than anyone else in the world, taking Luis Bunuel and blowing him away.

This is not one of those films, but I can see why many regard it as the greatest in Czech history. First of all, it is epic, which always draws in critics. But also, the beautiful cinematography is amazing, and the vocal (perhaps choral?) music is perfect to set the stage. Indeed, the music alone makes this film larger than life.

Reviewed by jboothmillard 5 / 10

Marketa Lazarová

I found this Czech film listed in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, it is one of only a few films that have got attention or reviews from critics, so I just watched to make my own mind up about it. Basically set in the Middle Ages, two brothers, Mikolás (Frantisek Velecký) and one-armed Adam (Ivan Palúch) are robbers who steal from travellers for their tyrannical father Kozlík (Josef Kemr). During one of their "jobs", they end up having to hold a young German hostage, the hostage's father escapes and reports the news of her kidnapping and the robbery to the King. Kozlík is prepared for the wrath of the King, he sends Mikolás to pressure his neighbour Lazar (Michal Kozuch) to join him in war, the persuasion fails, and in vengeance Mikolás abducts Lazar's virginal, naive daughter Marketa Lazarová (Magda Vásáryová), just as she was about to join a convent to become a nun. In the meantime, the King dispatches an army, and Lazar who is religious will be called upon to join hands against Kozlík. I will be honest and say that I did not understand absolutely everything going on, but there is a plot about the shift from Paganism to Christianity. Also starring Zdenek Kryzánek as Captain Beer and Pavla Polaskova as Alexandra, with narration by Zdenek Stepánek. Even though I couldn't follow everything because I had to read subtitles, this black-and-white film set in medieval times had some good moments, with themes of religion, kidnapping by robbers and the hostage becoming the mistress of one of the kidnappers being interesting, maybe if critics wrote a review I could make more of a determined judgement, for me it was a reasonable historical drama. Worth watching!

Reviewed by Bunuel1976 8 / 10

MARKETA LAZAROVA (Frantisek Vlacil, 1967) ***1/2

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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