At least a year has passed since my first viewing of Frantisek Vlacil’s Marketa Lazarová and I still struggle with how to put words together in order to describe something of this sort. When I first laid my eyes on Marketa Lazarová, my initial reaction was that I needed to watch the film once again in order to fully grasp what it left upon me. Ramblings aside though, the best way that I can come up with on the spot to describe what sort of a product is Marketa Lazarová is otherworldly. I was in denial from my first watch that it was a product of the human mind, but somehow, Frantisek Vlacil came out with such beauty I can’t exactly describe properly for all I’d want to do is just watch the film once again. Each time, my only wish is that I could get a bigger grasp at what’s at hand, but it is especially difficult when talking about the sort of journey that Marketa Lazarová provides.
Marketa Lazarová is not only a tale of vengeance as a synopsis would suggest, but it soon becomes clear that what is being told is a much more profound tale being offered. Marketa is the daughter of a feudal lord whose kidnapping is what sets the story forward, for Frantisek Vlacil’s detailing to her destruction is where something all the more beautiful is coming about. Where something like Marketa Lazarová works is in how it is not a film that only provides on the screen the destruction for its audiences, but it also takes what the viewers are seeing and turns the film intro an experience that is all the more difficult to describe. It is difficult because something much like this is so rare and it is truly something of its very own kind, but even at its worst, all of the best qualities arrest oneself to what they are witnessing, just as the very best of cinema should.
As mentioned prior, the roots of vengeance fade away in order for Marketa Lazarová to become a film that turns into a destructive tale of a woman’s life. After she is kidnapped, Marketa is subject to both physical and psychological abuse, and the grand sorrow of watching her pain worsen comes from the very feeling that it is a perspective we have only come to adopt thanks to what sort of filmmaking style director Frantisek Vlacil has applied. Yet her damage ultimately adds up to the strength behind Vlacil’s incredible commentary behind such a picture. Vlacil transforms Marketa’s feelings into the audience’s, and not only is it coming out from Magda Vásáryová’s incredible performance, but it is also arising from how the directorial choices move the film forward from one point to the other – for it does not adopt a conventional narrative, equating to a much more distinguishable cinematic tale from just about all others.
Structured in such a manner it almost resembles the world of a fantasy, it adds more to all the wonder that is created from Marketa Lazarová. On my first viewing, I remember having been unable to get a clear grasp because the film had me so befuddled with its unique structure but over many revisits, I’ve grown to admire what has been crafted. Vlacil clearly was not interested in making a film that would look very much like a conventional historical epic but instead it shows different places in time – presenting a clever allegory about how the past can define the present. Even with all this at play, Vlacil clearly adopts a certain look from the beautiful costumes and set pieces, but the way he uses each and every last one of them in order to move what he is telling forward makes for something that is all the more compelling from beginning to end.
Vlacil’s direction also uses the grand scope of Marketa Lazarová to his own benefit, by blending both the conventional through a basic storyline and experimental through the methods which he adopts. From the beginning of the film, it is clear that he is establishing a connection between the stark realism of the violence within society and natural beauty. Aiding the beautiful set pieces is the stunning cinematography, adding more to the dreamlike atmosphere which has been established from the narrative experimentation which he is utilizing. Yet from the dreamlike aesthetic being applied, it is also enhancing the grittiness that arises from how it represents the time period which it is depicting, in turn making Marketa Lazarová one of the very greatest of period epics.
Marketa Lazarová is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and it still remains as unique an experience upon each revisit – always feeling very much like a first. This is not an ordinary historical epic, but it is a twisted portrait of consequences, religious ordeals, and much more. Every moment is just as compelling as the last, just as the very best of cinema should be. It is never sentimental, but always brutal and given the time in which it had came out, it’s impressive how ahead it is of other films of its period – but even today it still feels like something that cannot be replicated. It’s a difficult film, but in the very best sense, it calls to be revisited many more times, as each time I come back there’s always something new I find within a masterpiece much like this. Something so overwhelming cannot simply be any ordinary product of the human mind – it’s a revelation of some sort, something I don’t really know how exactly to put my finger on.
Watch a scene right here.
All images via Janus Films.
Directed by Frantisek Vlacil
Screenplay by Frantisek Pavlícek, Frantisek Vlacil, from the novel by Vladislav Vancura
Produced by Josef Ouzký
Starring Magda Vásáryová
Release Year: 1967
Running Time: 162 minutes