Friday, August 13, 2010

Krvavá Pani – review

Director: Viktor Kubal

Release date: 1980

Contains spoilers

In the Czech Republic, I am led to understand, the legend of Erzsébet Báthory – in Slovak Alžběta Báthoryčka – is well known. This is the reason why Krvavá Pani, or Bloody Lady, downplays the actual crimes and concentrates more on the reason why.

In doing so it becomes unusual, in the source of the motivation, and almost fairytale like. This is compounded by a Disney-esque propensity to include animals and vegetation as humanised characters and an animation style that is simplistic – almost minimalistic – also adds to the children’s tale quality of the film.

beloved by the natural world
The film begins with a brief narration, by Jela Lukesová placing us at Cachtice Castle in the Lower Carpathians and ensuring we know that this is a story of murders committed by Alžběta Báthoryčka. After this the film is absolutely without dialogue. The Alžběta we meet at first is not the woman we expect, a bird (having sprayed deodorant to make itself presentable for the lady) passes her leaves as she awakens, she feeds the mouse in her room some cheese and the peeping cleaner, trying to catch a glimpse of he bathing, is knocked away with a good natured prod of the door.

the Chinese guardsman
In the courtyard guards compete for her pleasure, two catch arrows and a Chinese guard chops wood with karate. When she chooses to go for a ride, the three guardsmen make a set of steps out of themselves so that she can climb onto her horse but she ignores them, refusing to step on their backs and rides off side-saddle. Out in the country a bush transforms itself into a seat for her and animals perform tricks and athletic feats for her pleasure.

breaking the fever
All this comes to an end as she is caught in a terrible thunderstorm. By the time it ends she is bedraggled and drags herself to a woodsman’s cottage – the woodsman seems ignorant of the woman as she strips her wet clothes and gets into his bed but, when he eventually realises she is there, he also realises she has a fever and takes care of her. He brews medicine and nurses her to health.

she gives her heart
When she awakens – and he leaves with his wood axe – the animals enter the hut and perform for her again, to her delight. They run away when the woodsman returns and she realises that she needs to return – the castle has been in despair due to her absence. She and the woodsman are in love and she gives him her heart – actually literally – before leaving.

the bleeding heart
She gets to the place where the animals performed and starts smashing the place with a stick and attacking the animals. Why? The problem with no dialogue is that we are left to guess. Could it be the pressure of the duty she has to return to, or simply the fact that she now has no heart? Probably a little from column A and a lot from column B. She rides back to the castle (riding astride rather than side-saddle). At the castle she rakes the face of a maid who snags her hair, getting blood on her hand and then has the Peeper (for want of a better name) set up the guards to fail in their competitions. She notices that her skin has become very white were the blood spilt.

a bowl of blood
The Peeper brings her in a bowl of blood and she plunges her face into it. He becomes her main servant, luring girls back to the castle and seems to be the one actually doing the killing. We do not see any of the murders, bar the murder/attempted murder of two of the guardsmen. The Chinese guard is killed by a mechanical Alžběta, which crushes him to her and pierces him with blades that emerge from the breast. Another is missed by the blades but falls into an oubliette, aided by Alžběta’s boot heel. It is the fact that he then escapes that probably leads to her downfall.

disposing of victims
The further views of the crimes are offered when we see her bathing in blood once and when we see the Peeper, at night, burying bodies in the cemetery. It is whilst he is doing this that the guardsmen stumble across the truth and why they are latter disposed of. The atrocities lead to discussions in the corridors of power as well as peasant rumour.

approaching her punishment
On hearing the rumours the woodsman returns to try and give Alžběta her heart back. However she refuses it, casting it aside and trying to feed it to the dog. The woodsman has to get it back from the dog and takes it with him. He, almost accidentally, ends up killing the Peeper. I say accidentally because the Peeper steals his satchel in a tavern and he ends up cracking his skull to get it back and the theft is an act of random badness. Had he not tried to take the satchel the Woodsman would not have killed him. Snakes pour out of his broken head. Alžběta herself is taken to a newly built tower and walled in. However the woodsman has ensured he is walled in as well and puts her heart back, bringing her redemption at the very end.

victims arrive
So, an unusual take on the story. The animation was very stylised and I was not overly sure of the style but some will love it I am sure. I did think we missed narration, or perhaps a more explicit rendition of the murders. This is not an issue for those versed with the story but might be for those new to it – as I say, however, the downplay of this aspect was probably down to how well known the story is in the Czech Republic.

5.5 out of 10. The imdb page is here.


Christine said...

I have read about this film but it was nice to know more about it. Unusual take indeed... but doesn´t sound bad.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

It isn't bad but the animation will not be to all tastes and perhaps it needed just a tad of extra dialogue driven narrative