Language: Czech, German
Director: Frantisek Vlácil
Starring: Josef Kemr, Magda Vásáryová, Nada Hejna, Jaroslav Moucka
Although the Czechoslovakian New Wave was in full march during the sixties there were still directors who did not make films that criticized the communist regime. Frantisek Vlácil's medieval epic Marketa Lazarová pretty much follows communist policies, opposite of what the young rebellious filmmakers were doing. Regardless of that, Marketa Lazarová is a well crafted film and just as experimental as the new wave films. Marketa Lazarová is based on Vladislav Vančura's novel from 1931. It is set during the Middle Ages when Christianity made its march towards the pagan Slavic tribes in Eastern Europe. Marketa, the daughter of the Christian feudal lord Lazar is kidnapped and raped by the bandit king Kozlik and his men. The same gang also kidnapped the son of a Saxon bishop, who along with his Crusaders have taken one of Kozlik's men as hostage.
This is a strong, emotional and reverence masterpiece. The film feels very authentic as if it were filmed in the Middle Ages itself, from costumes to locations. Although this is an anti-religious film, there's a few effective religious overtones, and particular from mother nature herself, for example in a scene where a flock of black wolves are circling around in the woods like devils, accompanied by doomsday music that really brings out the dark medieval superstition. But the most beautifully executed aspect of the film is the majestic cinematography by Bedrich Bat'ka. Assuming that Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is number one on a top ten list of the best photographed film ever made, Marketa Lazarova is definitely number two on this list. It's so majestic that it even overshadows the negative aspects of this film.
The film's structure may seem rather cumbersome and sometimes it's hard to keep track of all the characters and events. It has the same structure as a medieval novel, where the action of each chapter is presented with a straightforward text for each chapter, as done in the novel Don Quixote. In that sense, this structure might help the movie get the right medieval atmosphere. My conclusion about Marketa Lazarová is that it is arguably one of the most beautiful films ever made and therefore deserves to be called a masterpiece, even though at times it is a bit cumbersome in its plot, plus all the different characters. Marketa Lazarová is nevertheless a spiritual experience out of the ordinary. Thumbs up.
You can read all my reviews on: