Czech filmmaker Frantisek Vlacil may have been eclipsed in the West by his countrymen Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel, but his work from the 60s and 70s has earned him a solid reputation at home: Marketa Lazarova (1966) was recently voted the greatest Czech film of all time in a national critics’ poll. Adapted from an experimental novel by Vladislav Vancura, it concerns a feud between two pagan clans that have fallen under the dominion of Christian German overlords in the 13th century. One clan has converted to Christianity, and its patriarch has pledged his virginal daughter Marketa (Magda Vasaryova) to a convent; the other, brutish and superstitious, abducts the young woman during a skirmish with its rivals. Episodic in structure, the film proceeds like a folk saga, but its flashbacks, flash-forwards, and abrupt cuts give it a hallucinatory quality. The iconography recalls Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, and Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, and the compositions can be bluntly symbolic and self-consciously arty. Yet Vlacil shot the film on location, insisting on historical authenticity, and his raw realism turns the countryside into a bleak hunting ground where new and ancient feuds settle into a tentative peace. In Czech and German with subtitles.
NR • 3 hours • 1968