661 Marketa Lazarová

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MichaelB
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Re: 661 Marketa Lazarová

#101 Post by MichaelB » Thu Dec 05, 2013 2:58 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:That article seems sort of sneering and weirdly dismissive towards a number of movies, Marketa Lazarová included-
Given that Mike Atkinson has done more than anyone bar possibly Peter Hames to big up Marketa Lazarová to the English-speaking world, there's no way he intended to dismiss it. Indeed, he's the author of the phrase ""The Czech New Wave's formalist, postexpressionist wrecking ball" cited above.

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Re: 661 Marketa Lazarová

#102 Post by matrixschmatrix » Thu Dec 05, 2013 3:03 pm

Ah, ok, I'm guessing I was misreading his tone at that point then. Thanks.

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Re: 661 Marketa Lazarová

#103 Post by Matt » Wed Jan 01, 2014 10:08 pm

I can't really add more than what's already been said, so I'll just repeat: "Where the fuck did this come from and why have I never heard of it before?"

It's everything I want in a film: delirious and overwhelming in both sound and image, savage and emotional, eminently repeatable. And I concur that anyone complaining about the amount of extras probably has not watched them; they are copious, thorough, and also very entertaining (though I would have enjoyed learning more about the score and its composer).

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Re: 661 Marketa Lazarová

#104 Post by swo17 » Wed Jan 01, 2014 10:27 pm

Matt wrote:I would have enjoyed learning more about the score and its composer.
What better way than to acquaint yourself with more of his work? First, if you haven't already, you need to see Juraj Herz's The Cremator immediately. It's roughly as much of a revelation as Marketa is, and it's conveniently available on Criterion's Hulu channel.

Also, here are a couple of shorts that Liška scored for Švankmajer that I'd count among his best work:
The Flat
The Ossuary

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Re: 661 Marketa Lazarová

#105 Post by Matt » Wed Jan 01, 2014 10:51 pm

I need to give The Cremator another shot. I watched it when the Second Run DVD came out years ago and didn't connect with it, probably because of a lack of context for the film. I plan to watch the other Vlácil films available on DVD next and will try to read up some on Czech cinema. I know so little about it.

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Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#106 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue Feb 04, 2014 12:30 pm

DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, MARCH 3rd AT 6:00 AM.

Members have a two week period in which to discuss the film before it's moved to its dedicated thread in The Criterion Collection subforum. Please read the Rules and Procedures.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

I encourage members to submit questions, either those designed to elicit discussion and point out interesting things to keep an eye on, or just something you want answered. This will be extremely helpful in getting discussion started. Starting is always the hardest part, all the more so if it's unguided. Questions can be submitted to me via PM.

1. Why is the film named after Marketa?

2. What purpose do the flashbacks and flashforwards throughout the film serve?



***PM me if you have any suggestions for additions or just general concerns and questions.***

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#107 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Feb 12, 2014 7:06 pm

Warren oates has pointed out that a new translation of the source novel comes out the same day as our discussions starts, at least in the U.S. and U.K.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#108 Post by Drucker » Mon Feb 17, 2014 10:24 pm

It's amazing to me just how little I captured the first time I watched this film two months ago. I guess I paid attention to the players and the feel of the film, but I remembered nothing about Marketa herself until the ending scenes, and missed almost the entire first half's plot and build-up. So I'm really delighted I got to watch this amazing film again.

What really struck me the second time watching this film: it's not the avant-garde, fully elliptical free-form film I kind of felt like it was the first time. The first half is actually pretty easy to follow and does an impressive job of setting a tone so early. From the lawless action of the individuals to the film's aesthetic, the film's tribal families and set-up is established within the opening story.

But ultimately, unlike something like The Browning Version, I find this a very difficult film to explore in terms of (pardon me for putting this ineloquently): "What is going on in this scene?" To answer the question posted above, the flash-forwards and flash-backs, to me, effectively make the characters live with their moments. Real or fantasy, the character's dreams, desires, and regrets are always with them. And that really helps, for me, the feel and atmosphere of the film. The last 30 minutes, after the main battle scene really evokes the atmosphere of desolation. Alexandra and Christian's love is over. Marketa is being abandoned, with her only hope being a return to the church, after her father casts her out. And one scene in particular stands out as Christian wandering out, a rainbow is caught on camera in the background. Of course, the rainbow is in pure greyscale, which is a pretty perfect summation of the feel of the film for me.

I'm still getting used to watching films built more on atmosphere and mood than traditional plots, so sorry if my thoughts are a bit all over the place.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#109 Post by jindianajonz » Tue Feb 18, 2014 11:57 am

I think the part that threw me for the biggest loop was the scene where Captain Beer visits Lazar, The entire scene takes place through a POV shot from Beer's eyes, yet there is nothing (as far as I can recall) to prepare you for the fact that you are inhabiting his head John Malkovich style! Given my second biggest problem* throughout this film was trying to figure out who was speaking at any given time (since there were some scenes where a character would be speaking despite the fact that his mouth wouldn't move; i specifically recall this happening to Adam when he speaks to Mikolas), it took me a while to realize there was a third person at Lazar's house. I wonder how many other times this technique was employed and it went right over my head- I do recall actors staring directly into the camera quite a bit throughout the film, just like Lazar had.

*The biggest problem I had, of course, is getting so caught up in the beautiful visuals that 5 or 6 subtitles drift by without me noticing them. I think I had to rewind and rewatch more scenes in this film than any other. I must have hit rewind at least 6 or 7 times during the "wolf speech" alone!

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#110 Post by Drucker » Tue Feb 18, 2014 12:04 pm

And of course, that moment is returned to in the following scene, and I feel like another scene, later on, isn't it? That whole confrontation seems pieced together over about a 30 minute span or so!
jindianajonz wrote:*The biggest problem I had, of course, is getting so caught up in the beautiful visuals that 5 or 6 subtitles drift by without me noticing them. I think I had to rewind and rewatch more scenes in this film than any other. I must have hit rewind at least 6 or 7 times during the "wolf speech" alone!
I'm almost embarrassed to be asking, but:

The Wolf=Mikolas=the dark-haired character who rapes Marketa, right? The mother starts the story by using some name that starts with an "S" that I forget, but almost seemed like a nickname. Am I right, or did I miss something? Or was the whole wolf section a fable and I totally missed that? I too went back to this scene to watch from the start after I finished the whole movie and was still a bit lost.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#111 Post by jindianajonz » Tue Feb 18, 2014 12:18 pm

This part was pretty cryptic, but the way I understood it, the story the mother told was just that- a story. You are correct that it was about a guy whose name began with an "S"- Stavras or Stevas or something like that. But yeah, that part seemed to just be a fable. Vlacil only connected it to Mikolas by having us watch him as the mother narrated.

Also, the shot of Mikolas emerging from the shadowy cave during that scene may be the coolest visual I've seen in the Criterion Collection.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#112 Post by Werewolf by Night » Tue Feb 18, 2014 12:26 pm

Straba the Wolf. The story is ostensibly about an ancestor of Kozlík (and his sons Adam and Mikolas) and is like a fable in that it attempts to explain why the clan is so vicious, incestuous, and amoral.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#113 Post by matrixschmatrix » Fri Feb 21, 2014 4:08 pm

So is this movie just difficult to parse well enough to talk about? I watched it on Tuesday, and have been trying to arrange it well enough in my head to contribute, but beyond the obvious- it's lovely, and it's far from narratively straightforward- I'm not sure of what to say. I do wonder if there's a background of Czech legend that would be helpful here, as it took me a painfully long time even to realize that the Saxons were an occupying force and not the homegrown nobility.

It did remind me a bit of sort of a mirror universe Flowers of St. Francis, one in which Francis and his men never arrive- just hypocrisy, cruelty, and ugliness, wherein every act good or evil seems to beget further evil. It's a difficult thing to watch, however beautiful (without even getting into the politics of a woman falling for her rapist!)

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#114 Post by Drucker » Fri Feb 21, 2014 4:40 pm

One thing I almost posted the other day, but held off in trying to let other people have a turn, was that I think one of the most striking aspects of the film is the strength of individual characters. jindianajonz brought up a haunting scene where Mikolas is viewed, but all in all, almost every character that is focused on is given the chance for the audience to get to know them. The weakness of Marketa's father, the brutality and impatience of the leader of Mikolas's tribe (names have escaped me 5 days later), the king's/(leader's?) son who is kidnapped has a fascinating journey all in the end.

Speaking of that character (Christian?), I found Alexandra absolutely fascinating, and the implications of her murder of Christian was one of the strongest parts of the film to me. Throughout the film, their relationship and her seeming rejection of the men in her tribe (her brothers?) made her compelling and almost an anti-Marketa. She was a woman in control of herself and grounded in her own dark reality, not seeking any sort of spirituality. She's very happy to experience sex, and in the end, shows that she also has no qualms about murder, either.

Alexandra is clearly not spiritual, and by the end of the film she has grown slightly uglier, with warts/scars on her face, and bound in chains ready to serve punishment. Marketa, however, remains beautiful, seemingly saved by the church. An interesting contrast, indeed.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#115 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Feb 21, 2014 6:32 pm

Drucker wrote:She was a woman in control of herself and grounded in her own dark reality, not seeking any sort of spirituality. She's very happy to experience sex, and in the end, shows that she also has no qualms about murder, either.

Alexandra is clearly not spiritual, and by the end of the film she has grown slightly uglier, with warts/scars on her face, and bound in chains ready to serve punishment. Marketa, however, remains beautiful, seemingly saved by the church. An interesting contrast, indeed.
I don't know if that makes her more in control of herself in any feminist sense. I think she's meant to grow increasingly animalistic, hence her sexuality and her final, bestial descent into murder. The movie's sense of spirituality seems very mediaeval.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#116 Post by Mr Sausage » Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:15 pm

I rewatched the movie and it's structure continued to intrigue me.

The movie is actually composed of fragments. It even announces this in the opening text, that the story is assembled of old fragments. The structure of the film follows through on that: the chapters rarely follow from each other. Each scene seems self-contained: part of some larger whole, but with its own discreet beginning and ending that rarely ever dovetail, temporally, with the scenes around it. They add up to a larger whole without leading to one. Add to that the small texts that describe the scene to come, and it feels like you're reading an old manuscript that's come down in an incomplete copy in which most of the key scenes are preserved, but the rest is gaps.

It's further fragmented by doing something similar to Joseph Conrad's technique of delayed decoding, where he'd start a chapter in the middle or at the end of an event and only afterwards provide the context that explains how we got there. Same here: we're often dropped in the middle of events, with the context presented in the form of disconnected flashes. Two striking examples: we follow Kozlik on an arduous journey home through the forest, with the reason for his journey filled in with flashes of his encounter with the captain, each flash containing slightly more information than the last until the whole can be grasped. The other is the chapter where the Captain's underling is killed by Kozlik's sons. In that scene, we're introduced to the train of horses bearing the dead man's body home, with the moments that lead to his death also coming in disconnected flashes.

The effect of all of this disconnection and fragmentation is that continuity doesn't seem to be driving the movie. Many things happen, and we find out why, but the effects never flow from their causes. We're always in the position of having to decipher each moment, as tho' the reality of this world were a continual puzzle that can only be worked into a whole in retrospect. It never quite makes sense while it's happening. It's somewhat alienating and frightening; we're always off-balance, struggling to comprehend things.

In that case, I understand why the text at the beginning says something to the effect that while this is an old story, it is also a modern one: the techniques of this movie are modernist; they reflect a modernist conception of our world as being a puzzling and disconnected series of sudden, inexplicable, and brutal events that resist the attempt to perceive them as an organic whole. Yet that modernism also captures something of the mediaeval world of the movie, too, in which hardship, suffering, and death were equally sudden, where the landscape seemed capricious and arbitrary. So this dislocating, unbalancing narrative technique embodies that feeling for the audience.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#117 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue Feb 25, 2014 10:13 pm

Come on, guys, surely more of you can find something to say on this remarkable film.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#118 Post by warren oates » Wed Feb 26, 2014 3:55 pm

I really like what you have to say above about the film's structure.

My reasons for not posting anything before now aren't unrelated to the deliberate difficulty of deciphering what's actually happening in any given scene at any moment. This is the second go around for me. And frankly, like Criterion booklet essayist Tom Gunning who admits to sort of feeling like he was maybe starting to get it after four viewings, I could always use another one. Maybe the discussion ought to be extended for that reason alone, since this is a film that truly demands repeat viewings (and benefits so much from any supplements you can make time for)?

So far I'm most interested in the film's attitude towards its characters. In the interviews Vlacil returns again and again to the difficulty of recreating the world of the Middle Ages, not only in terms of physical detail but also the psychology of the characters. He talks about how challenging it was for him to even begin to conceive of just what exactly a medieval highwayman stranded in a snow storm would be thinking. And for me that's the film's main agenda, an aspiration to place viewers, as much as its possible to do with a film, into the experiential reality of that world. He wants us to feel the dirt, the cold, the fear and confusion. But even beyond that he wants us to feel it filtered through his best approximation of a much older and somewhat alien mindset.

About the camerawork: You wonder what might have happened to film history if a visionary like Vlacil had access to the full production resources of Mosfilm or Hollywood. We might have gotten something like the steadicam decades ahead of time. Indeed, some of the long POV shots in the film feel like proto-steadicam work and are certainly straining even the limits of handheld coverage.

In the booklet interview Vlacil, says the only filmmakers he admires are these three B's: Bergman, Bresson and Bunuel. Who isn't influenced by Bergman? I'm guessing The Virgin Spring, though, was probably particularly important to Vlacil, probably even more so than The Seventh Seal because of the relative grittiness of the former and the narrative's concern with rape, revenge and all that happy medieval stuff.

I'd say the sound mix is very influenced by Bresson in terms of its dryness and deliberate artifice. Also the way in which Bresson considered sound as a kind of primary or at the very least parallel mode of expressiveness. Even the directionality of dialogue sometimes seems deliberately avant garde. There's one scene in particular where my viewing companion, who works on big studio films in post production, could have sworn that nobody on-screen was talking, until I pointed out that it was the guy on the stairs in the background. What threw her was how close he sounded in the mix.

Bunuel's influence seems most clear in the character of the monk, who the supplements indicate was not in the novel. Really if the film were just about this monk and his, um, special friend, it might as well be a Luis B. joint.

By the way, unfortunately, it looks like the publisher of that new translation of the novel has delayed the release again. So I won't get to read the book before this discussion ends.
Last edited by warren oates on Thu Feb 27, 2014 12:14 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#119 Post by movielocke » Wed Feb 26, 2014 6:29 pm

Mr Sausage wrote:Come on, guys, surely more of you can find something to say on this remarkable film.
I was going to rewatch it today so I could better respond to the discussion since I was supposed to not be working, then I got called in, so I'm not sure when I'll get a chance to sit down with it again. I'm planning on rereading the booklet before watching it though, as I remember it being very helpful at laying out so many of the names and relationships of the characters. Loving the discussion, though.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#120 Post by Sloper » Thu Feb 27, 2014 7:14 pm

I've watched the film four times now, and I still need to watch it again before I can really say anything coherent about it. But I've been enjoying the discussion so far, and am reassured that others found the film as hard to decipher as I did on a first (and second, third and fourth) viewing. A few vague comments:

It is amazing how much this film rewards repeat viewings. It made no sense to me at all when I first saw it about six years ago, and I remember feeling awed by the visuals but frustrated by the obscure narrative. I'm sorry to say that it struck me as a very long series of striking but empty gestures, but now I can hardly believe I was so blind to the richness, profundity and intricacy of this incredible film.

It's not just that it takes on deeper meanings with each viewing - though it does - but even on the level of narrative there is so much to admire here as you revisit the film. Mr Sausage mentioned the sequence in which Captain Beer mediates on the death of Sovicka. On a first viewing, I probably figured out who Sovicka was when I saw him impaled by the arrow, but otherwise couldn't make head or tail of this sequence. On a fourth viewing, I could not only see the significance of each image - the corpse on the bier, the sorrowing Captain, the way the song ties the sequence together from beginning to end, the glimpse of the dead man's fancy helmet which the camera pans down on, leading us to expect a wearer as well as a helmet, before revealing that it's empty - but again couldn't believe I had ever been so stupid as not to be able to read all this more fluently. Once you can piece together the basic narrative, which is in fact pretty simple, you can see that Vlácil is telling the story in the best possible way - not in a simple way exactly, but not in a pointlessly confusing one either. There is always a rationale behind the process of fragmentation.

The flashback to Alexandra and Adam's fateful tryst is another good example. I'm ashamed to say it took me a while to figure out that the man here was Adam, and I'm still not quite sure how you're supposed to know this on a first viewing. It took me even longer to figure out that the chicken-killing and tree-worshipping business was a flash-forward (within the flashback) to the rituals Alexandra tried to use to cure Adam after he was bitten by the snake (poor blameless snake, by the way). And the great thing is that once you've figured this out, you're not just left marvelling at a load of flashy but pointless narrative wankery - rather, this is the point where you can really start to get your teeth into the significance of the film's imagery, the effects of the juxtapositions, the deft and carefully judged editing. It's a jigsaw puzzle that turns out to be far more than the sum of its parts.

Another thing that struck me was the way the film revolves around associations between humans, animals and landscape. We start with the landscape, then see the pack of wolves running across it, then the bird of prey - and then at last Mikoláš, hunting with his falcon but also preying on the Bishop and his fellow travellers. Mikoláš behaves like a wolf or a falcon; his brother, Adam, is more insidious and associated with snakes (later, he wears a hat made of viper skins - the extras on the Criterion disc are very informative...).

When we first see Marketa, she is carrying a dove, and presenting it (to the abbess) with open, unrestrained enthusiasm, in contrast to the solemnity of the nuns. She unlaces her tunic (?) to release it, revealing her breasts; the abbess, encased in her habit from head to foot and revealing only her impassive face and still, firm hands, solemnly takes the dove inside the convent. Then we see Marketa in an extreme close-up, looking slowly up at the camera from beneath her extraordinary head of blonde hair. The hair consistently serves as a kind of veil for Marketa, concealing or obscuring her face, but as this shot illustrates the emphasis is frequently on her tendency to subvert this veil; there is something sly, knowing and dangerous about the look in her eyes here. Then we see the birds flying away from the convent - nature fleeing the deadening restraints of that world, just as Marketa herself will do in that magnificently defiant climactic scene where she rejects the abbess.

It would be well worth drawing comparisons with The Valley of the Bees here, and of course The White Dove. The film is centrally about humanity's place in the natural world, the ways in which we are shaped by, and trapped within, the landscapes that surround us, the blurred boundaries between human and animal, the conflicts and parallels between the law of nature and the myths and narratives upon which we found our own laws.

It's interesting that the final voiceover signals the struggle between 'love and cruelty' and 'certainty and doubt' for people's 'souls' as being of central importance. In what ways does the rest of the film, up to that point, work to foreground those particular conflicts?

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#121 Post by FerdinandGriffon » Thu Feb 27, 2014 7:23 pm

Heads up! Marketa Lazarová is playing at BAM tomorrow and the next day, as well as for a week long run starting the weekend after. BAM was where I first saw the film a few years back, and though I doubt it will be in the majestic old playhouse theater for this run, I'm looking forward to revisiting it under better circumstances. Had a bit of a medical scare (it turned out to be a false alarm) immediately before the film started, which has always colored my experience and memory of it.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#122 Post by swo17 » Thu Feb 27, 2014 9:25 pm

Like others here, I too was comforted by the comment in the Criterion booklet that the guy who's seen the film four times and who was commissioned to write an essay about it for a major release was still struggling to grasp it all. And I think this is completely okay. It may even be one of the film's strongest assets. Over the past few years, I've rewatched a lot of films from early in my moviegoing days that strongly resonated with me upon first and sometimes even subsequent viewings, but that fell somewhat in my estimation during the latest go-round. This is probably due in part to me having refined my tastes over the years after educating myself with more of film history, but I think it also has to do with many films losing some of their impact after becoming more familiar, once the element of surprise has worn out its potency. This is why I particularly treasure a film like Marketa Lazarová, which I enjoy immensely on a purely visceral level while watching, even though I still feel a tad lost and inadequate in its presence. In just one of many qualities that the film shares with the sun, it's monumental, undeniable, and inspiring, yet also distant and unknowable. I've seen it three times now over so many years and I don't fully get it, or feel equipped to discuss it really with any sense of authority. I feel like I could see it three more times and still not quite get there. I hope I never do.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#123 Post by Black Hat » Fri Feb 28, 2014 9:23 am

It's striking to me how when I first saw Marketa Lazarova, almost two years ago, this stunning cinematic ballet somehow played out to me as a straight forward narrative. Having watched it again, the film's language which was once clear to me as one thing, a medieval story about a family of outlaws and their battles, is now entirely another. What I saw once as a story of war and its spoils, the folly of men, is now a story about class, a story of the struggle between the ideal and the real.

Marketa, who I originally felt was the thinnest, least interesting character I now regard as the entire movie. She is the embodiment of a country's hopes and dreams that had gone so horribly wrong but lives on to fight another day. There's a great amount of cynicism in the film. There is no help to be had from this despair. Not from love, as we saw with the Bishop, and certainly not from God. I'd go as far as to say that with it's treatment of Marketa, the depiction of Adam and Alexandra the film is explicitly in opposition to God, showing an outright contempt and disgust.

The climactic sequence between the Bishop and Alexandra is about class. Every supposed difference between the two is remarked on by people from his own class. Everything from her appearance to her smell is ridiculed. She is called the devil, a witch and so forth but why? What is she exactly threatening? The sequence contains one of the film's most striking images which is a point of view shot culminating in a split second look at a naked Alexandra hanging upside down. Besides the obvious, what's the interpretation of that? I'd also vehemently disagree with those who believe Alexandra murdered him. I think that was a clever slight of hand by Vlácil as everything leading up to that moment would lead us to believe that but if you watch the end of that sequence you'll see that she walks up to him again and then gazes upon him where he's still dead but without any head injury. At that point we get a shot of her clearly upset until the screen shades mostly black as Alexandra descends into grief. What we saw in those sequences were parallel stories, one narrative written by the Bishop's people and one of what actually happened.

Ultimately Marketa Lazarova is not a film about finding peace, spirituality, transcendence, what have you. It's a film about learning to live with struggle independently without the aid of God, who Vlácil treats as a hollow crutch as opposed to salvation.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#124 Post by Mr Sausage » Fri Feb 28, 2014 9:34 am

It's weird that you say it's about class when it's repeated several times that Kozlik (and I would assume his children) is a nobleman or of a noble family, and that he once fought alongside Captain Beer and others during the invasion of Saxony and was at that time a "good neighbour."

In terms of rank (the idea of 'class' did not exist then), I think they are all equal.

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Re: Marketa Lazarová (František Vlácil, 1967)

#125 Post by Black Hat » Fri Feb 28, 2014 9:45 am

That's precisely one of the reasons why I say it's about class. Why would Kozlik's nobility even be mentioned if, as you are correct in noting, class did not exist then? There's a long stretch where Kozlik's daughter gets trashed in every way imaginable largely with a commentary steeped in tropes about class differences, why? Because, as often is the case within countries under heavy censorship, artists make commentaries on the present by telling stories from the distant past.
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