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A 1967 film noir, Marketa Lazarová has long been recognized as one of the finest films in the history of the Czech cinema industry. The story is set during medieval times and its rather convoluted plot involves three principal groups. The first is the Kozlik family whose patriarch’s (Josef Kemr) sons attack travelers through their lands. The oldest Kozlik son is Mikolas (Frantisek Velecky), also known as the human wolf. Wolf themes pervade the story with a number of the clan invested in “wolf” apparel. There is also a one-armed brother Adam (Ivan Paluch) whose left arm was chopped off by his father as punishment for having sex with his sister Alexandra (Pavla Polaskova). As the film opens, the Kozliks have captured a German prince Christian (Vlastamil Harapes). Christian’s father, the Baron (Harry Studt) seeks vengeance with the aid of the king’s army. The Lazar family is marginally more civilized, and their patriarch (Michal Kozuch) has a daughter, Marketa (Magda Vasaryova) who is about to enter the convent. The Lazars are caught between the Kozliks and the king’s forces. Mikolas enters the Lazar compound and is beaten to a pulp. He manages to return home but now the Kozliks are being pursued by the royal troops. Later, the Kozlik brothers kidnap Marketa and she becomes Mikolas’s lover. A battle between the troops and the Kozlik clan ensues. Christian has become enamored of Alexandra and he escapes, while the elder Kozlik is taken prisoner. Eventually Marketa is given her freedom to return to the convent but this is shortlived as she leaves to be united with her dying Mikolas. At the film’s conclusion, both Marketa and Alexandra have given birth to sons by Mikolas and Christian, respectively, offscreen, but as the narrator tells us, the order of the world is inevitably changing.
This is an unabashedly violent, often brutal, film that depicts life under the harsh circumstances of the times and seemingly endless Czech winters. While it may be difficult to imagine the Dark Ages where paganism coexisted uncomfortably with the rise of Christianity, director Frantisek Vlacil creates a universe that is out of time, underscored by adventurous cinematography and an otherworldly score. The complexity of the plot can be distilled into the raw human emotions that are portrayed without any social veneers. Considering that this film appeared during the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Vlacil boldly takes on themes like incest and bestiality that would normally have been forbidden territory.
The remastering was accomplished in 4K resolution with a Northlight II scanner from an original negative and fine-grain positive. While there are some grainy patches here and there, the overall image quality, particularly the close up facial shots, are truly excellent.
The sound restoration is largely successful, sourced from a new positive print derived from an original negative. We get very clear mono, and the unusual combination of a background chorus, bells, and vibraphone, accompanied by copious echoes, creates a very striking sonic backdrop.
A generous program booklet contains background essays by Tom Gunning (“Cinema of the Wolf: The Mystery of ‘Marketa Lazarová’) and Alex Zucker (Vladislav Vancura and his Novel) and a transcript of a 1969 interview with Frantisek Vlacil (The Spirit of the Times).
- New interviews with actors Vasaryova, Paluch, and Harapes, and costume designer Theodor Pistek.(67:00) (Dolby Digital Mono)
- New interviews with film historian Peter Hames and film critic Antonin Lihm. (17:43) (English Dolby Digital Mono) and film critic Antonin Liehm.(9:37) (Czech Dolby Digital Mono)
- In the Web of Time: a 1989 documentary by Fratissek Uldrich in which director Vlacil discusses filmmaking.(21:00) (Czech Dolby Digital Mono)
- Interview with Universal Production Partners technical director Ivo Marak about the film’s restoration process. (9:43) (Czech Dolby Digital Mono)
- Gallery of Vlacil storyboards
The Definitive Word
This film is quite unlike those that most audiences are accustomed to watching. Many perspectives and cinematic styles are mixed in and there is a consistent sense of disequilibrium between the action and the actors. Marketa Lazarová is not an easy watch, as noted earlier, with its frequent brutality but most first-time viewers will find it fascinating and, at times, almost addictive. Director Vlacil recalls Ingmar Bergman (think The Virgin Spring ) but maintains a distinctive visual approach. Given the complexity of Vancura’s original novel, the crew involved in this project has done a miraculous job of bringing a mostly coherent version of this story to the big screen.
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