The Film (5/5)
Between a copy of Criterion's Pearls of the Czech New Wave Eclipse Box Set, and their recent Blu-ray release of the obscure Marketa Lazarova, I have spent a good little bit of time during the last year catching up with 60's Czech cinema. Both sets were extremely pleasant surprises, but I have to say while the Czech New Wave box set was a nice introduction to a group of Czech filmmakers I was unfamiliar with (I had previously seen some of Milos Forman's work), Marketa Lazarova was an absolutely mind-blowing masterpiece of a film that took me completely off-guard with it's narrative approach, stylistic choices, and even it's very expressive sound design.
Marketa Lazarova is a complex tale told in 2 halves, and in multiple chapters. The story opens with a failed kidnapping by 2 bandit brothers Mikolas and Adam. The kidnapping ends with the Father of the victim, gaining access to the King, and reporting it to him. This causes the King to send his army against the Brothers and their clan. The two of them attempt to persuade another clan leader Lazar to join them in battle against the approaching army, but are rejected. In response to the rejection, they kidnap Lazar's daughter the titular Marketa.
Frantisek Vlácil was not considered one of the Czech New Wave directors. The collective of New Wave directors primarily came out of FAMU, the Czech film school. Frantisek Vlácil, on the other hand was trained in film production through his service with the Czech Army's film studio. The style of the New Wave filmmakers has a certain wildness, and anarchic style to their various cinematic approaches, and yet Marketa Lazarova being more cinematically structured and epic in scope still feels like it has a certain kinship with those New Wave films.
The narrative of the film is told in 2 halves in multiple chapters, as I mentioned earlier. However, these are not told with a solid chronology. The film tells it's story with multiple flashbacks are wonderfully surreal dream sequences that interject themselves into the body of the main story without warning. This is a film that not only rewards multiple viewings, but demands them. It is damn near impossible to take in the full complexity of the story that Vlácil is trying to tell with it's nuanced structure without digging deeper than a surface rendering of the film. One last thing of note, that took me certainly be surprise was the films stunning sound design. Whether it was bizarre nature sounds, or choral singing the way sound is used in the film is an added texture, and almost like a background character subtly commenting on the events as they pass.
Every year Criterion releases an intense slate of classic, and wonderful films. In that mix of films are certain ones that inevitably fall through the cracks, in 2013 Marketa Lazarova is my favorite Criterion release thus far. This is not just for the package, and restoration, but for bringing a film to the Region A/1 home video market, that has never seen light of day officially here before, and giving it to a viewing public that deserves to see it.
Criterion has presented Marketa Lazarova in a glorious 2:35:1 mpeg-4 encoded 1080p transfer. The transfer looks excellent with an organic, natural grain structure present throughout the film. In addition, the film has excellent contrast, and a great deal of fine detail especially in close ups.
The audio has been presented in an LPCM mono track. The track is similarly excellent with the dialogue coming through clean and clear. The music, sound effects, and other background elements that make up the films excellent sound design come through quite nicely as well providing what can only be described as an absolutely fantastic listening experience.
If just bringing the film stateside with a glorious transfer was not enough. Criterion have put together an excellent slate of extras befitting the most popular films. There are 40 minutes worth of interviews with actors Magda Vasaryova, Ivan Pulach, Vlastimil Harapes, and the films costume designer Theodor Pistek. We then have an 18 minute interview of Frantisek Vlácil's career by film historian Peter Hames, and a 10 minute interview regarding the film by film critic Peter Hames. We then are treated to a 1989 documentary called In the Web of Time where Frantisek Vlácil discusses his career and process. We then have an interview with Ivo Marek the technical director in charge of the team who headed up the films restoration. The set is rounded off by the films storyboards, trailer, and a booklet of liner notes.
Of all the releases Criterion has put out this year Marketa Lazarova maybe one of the finest. It is the first home video release stateside of a film considered to be the greatest film in Czech history. The restoration courtesy of Criterion is absolutely gorgeous, and the extras are elaborate, interesting, and offer quite a bit of depth into this once obscure film.