Adam’s SFIFF56 Report: Day 3 – “Marketa Lazarová” and “The Pirogue”

Marketa_Lazarova_01Two movies today, both at the Berkeley venue. One of which took place in the middle ages and the other in the middle of the ocean.

This first film, Frantisek Vlácil‘s 1966 enchantingly beautiful and often grimy Marketa Lazarová, was being shown in honor of George Gund, III, who passed away in January after a lengthy battle with stomach cancer. Aside from being a very generous donator to the San Francisco Film Society, as well as Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive, George was also an advent lover of foreign cinema, particularly films from the Czech Republic. As was announced before the film began, George’s love for Marketa Lazarová grew with every re-watch, which apparently there were several. He said – now, I’m paraphrasing here – he had a strong need to keep coming back to this film, both for its beauty and to discover yet another layer of the film that he had previously not seen.

Well, George, after my virgin viewing of this film that you so admired, I must say, I too now feel a wanting urge to return to this barbaric world, some time sooner than later. Perhaps the PFA will add this to their schedule during their tribute to you later on this year. So, now that you know I liked Marketa, here’s what I have to say about it.

Marketa Lazarová

Marketa_Lazarova_03four-stars4Note to self, when a festival guide describes a film as having “a narrative more poetic than it is linear” and says it contains “uncanny realism” what that really means is don’t waste your time trying to keep up with the who, why and whats of the plot. Just sit back and enjoy the muck and violence as it washes over your senses like a blood-stained face in a puddle of mud – on a projected 35mm print I must add.

My first, of what will hopefully be many more viewings of Marketa, was a bit like getting lost in some grand orchestral composition. At any given time I could allow my attention to drift from one of the film’s elements to another without losing any satisfaction from placing that part of the film ahead of another. To give a different analogy, I felt like a parent forced to choose which kid he should pay more attention to when they’re all screaming, “look at me!” At times I found myself giving more attention to the choruses of operatic a capella and haunting classical music pieces that made up the score, while other times I was enrapt with joyous repulsion from the overall dirtiness of this 13th Century environment from which the outstanding wardrobe and makeup departments had vividly captured all too eerily. I think it goes without saying that as far as I know I have never lived in the 13th Century, but if I had I bet this is what it would have looked like. If only all three-hour films were this visually and audibly stimulating.

I wanted to give this film a subjective five stars instead of four, but I don’t think I can do that until I have a better grasp on the plot, which, I’m sure will come with repeat viewings.

The Pirogue

Pirogue_01two-stars1Well, being that I had no idea what this film was going to be about, I can’t say I was disappointed. I will say I was dissatisfied though. Yep, pretty sure I can say that.

My viewing experience of Moussa Touré‘s movie was one that mimicked the drastic sways of the film’s pirogue (small boat). The scene in particular that I am talking about is when the vessel is caught in the grasp of a brutal storm amongst the vast open sea. I’m not saying I felt seasick, or feared I was going to drown, obviously, being that I was in the comforts of a theatre and on dry land and all. What I am saying is that for every well executed scene, there was a badly executed one of equal or greater measure to follow.

The film’s opening was not only promising, but for my money, it was also the most memorable scene of the entire 87 minutes. Were shown two wrestlers partake in a pre-match ritual where certain white, red and clear liquids are poured on them as they strut around in circles flexing and shouting in order to psyche out their opponent. Unfortunately, this energetic and observational documentary-style scene was short-lived and to be followed by broad strokes of rushed attempts at character development. As soon as we meet several of these soon-to-be emigrants, it’s off to the seas, where we’re stuck with them for their entire journey towards Europe. Once on the boat, attempts at further drawing me into the story and drama were just that – attempts.

Every cliché thing you can think of to put in a movie about survival was not just inserted into this film, but played out in such a sloppy manner that it all became laughable, which I’m certain, judging from the serious statistics thrown up on the screen at the film’s end, was not the desired reaction of those involved in making this film. Yep, I was pretty much dissatisfied.

I wanted to stay in Berkeley for the next two films, Key of Life and Rosie, but I had to make my own journey across a vast sea (okay, over a section of the Bay) in order to chow down on some family Sunday food. Tomorrow I have a busy day starting a new job, but I may, if I’m lucky, be able to catch at least one film. We shall see.


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Categories: Reviews, San Francisco International Film Festival


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