Marketa Lazarova: A Cinematic Masterpiece of Medieval Intrigue and Romance
Marketa Lazarova, directed by František Vláčil, is a masterpiece of Czechoslovakian cinema that has been praised for its stunning visual style, innovative use of sound, and powerful performances. In our opinion, it is one of the visual most beautiful films ever made. Released in 1967, the film is set in medieval Bohemia and tells the story of two feuding clans and the innocent girl caught between them. But the film is much more than a simple tale of rivalries and love. It is a complex exploration of the human condition, full of symbolism and depth that rewards multiple viewings.
One of the most striking elements of Marketa Lazarova is its visual style. Vláčil shot the film in black and white, but the images are anything but dull. The landscapes are hauntingly beautiful, and the camera lingers on every detail, from the trees in the forest to the ripples in the water. The characters are often framed against vast expanses of sky or towering rock formations, emphasizing their smallness in the face of the natural world. The film's use of light and shadow is also masterful, creating a sense of mystery and depth that draws the viewer in.
Another notable aspect of the film is its innovative use of sound. Vláčil uses natural sounds, such as the creaking of a wagon wheel or the rustling of leaves, to create a sense of atmosphere and place. The film also features a haunting choral score by Zdeněk Liška that adds to the otherworldly feel of the film. But perhaps the most striking use of sound is the film's unconventional editing. Vláčil often cuts between scenes in a way that creates a sense of disorientation, blurring the line between dreams and reality.
The performances in Marketa Lazarova are also outstanding. Magda Vášáryová gives a powerful and nuanced performance as Marketa, the innocent girl who becomes caught up in the violence of the feuding clans. But the film is also full of memorable supporting performances, such as František Velecký as the ruthless Mikoláš, and Josef Kemr as the wise old abbot.
The film's costumes were meticulously designed by Theodor Pistek (Academy Award for Amadeus) to reflect the period setting, with the production team going to great lengths to source historically accurate fabrics and materials. (Read more interesting facts down below.)
Original film poster for Marketa Lazarova is available in our shop.
But Marketa Lazarova is more than just a beautifully made film. It is a deeply philosophical work that grapples with questions of morality, spirituality, and the human condition. The film is full of symbolism, from the recurring image of the cross to the use of Christian iconography. It is a meditation on the nature of sin, the possibility of redemption, and the role of fate in human life.
Marketa Lazarova was made during a time of great political upheaval in Czechoslovakia. The country was under communist rule, and the Prague Spring, a period of liberalization and reform, was just around the corner. It is tempting to see the film as a commentary on the state of the country at the time, with its portrayal of ruthless power struggles and its meditation on the nature of freedom. But Vláčil himself has said that he did not intend the film to be political. Instead, he saw it as a timeless work that explored universal themes of love, violence, and spirituality.
Despite its artistry and critical acclaim, Marketa Lazarova is not a well-known film outside of its native Czechoslovakia. But for those willing to take the journey, it is a deeply rewarding work that rewards multiple viewings. It is a film that reminds us of the power of cinema to explore the deepest mysteries of the human experience.
While Marketa Lazarova is a unique and highly regarded film within the Czechoslovakian New Wave movement, it can also be compared to other international films in terms of its style and themes.
One film that shares some similarities with Marketa Lazarova is Akira Kurosawa's 1957 film, Throne of Blood. Both films are set in medieval times and explore themes of power, violence, and morality. They also feature striking visuals and use natural elements such as fog and snow to create an immersive atmosphere. However, Throne of Blood is a more straightforward adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, while Marketa Lazarova is a more free-form interpretation of a Czech novel.
In terms of international awards, Marketa Lazarova won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, and was also nominated for the Golden Palm. It also won the Golden Hugo at the 1968 Chicago International Film Festival, and the Grand Prix at the 1969 Mar del Plata International Film Festival. Additionally, it was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1972.
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Things you did not know about about the filming of "Marketa Lazarová":
The film was shot in the winter of 1966-1967 in the frozen Czechoslovakian countryside, with temperatures dropping to as low as -25°C. The harsh conditions and remote filming locations made the shoot extremely challenging for the cast and crew.
To achieve the film's unique visual style, director František Vláčil employed various techniques such as shooting with a hand-held camera, using natural lighting, and filming in low-angle shots to create a sense of grandeur and epic scale.
The film's battle scenes were filmed using a unique approach. Rather than using extras or professional stunt performers, Vláčil cast local villagers and farmers to act as the soldiers. The result was a more authentic and gritty portrayal of medieval warfare.
The film's costumes were meticulously designed to reflect the period setting, with the production team going to great lengths to source historically accurate fabrics and materials. The costumes were also designed to reflect the characters' social status and role in the story, with the costumes of the aristocratic characters featuring more ornate designs and fabrics.
- In order to save money on costumes and props, director František Vláčil reused the costumes and armor from his previous film, "Marketa Lazarová," in his later film, "The Valley of the Bees." The two films are set in different time periods, but Vláčil believed that the costumes and armor were versatile enough to be used in both films. This kind of resourcefulness was common in Czechoslovakian filmmaking during the time of the New Wave, as filmmakers often had limited budgets and resources to work with.