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Film / Marketa Lazarová

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Mind Screw and High Middle Ages. Tarkovsky? Nope, Vláčil.

"This tale was told by chance, so it hardly merits praise. But that does not matter. There are many others like it still waiting to be penned."
Opening Title Card

Marketa Lazarová is a 1967 Czech historical drama film directed by František Vláčil, supposedly based on real historical events (loosely) and definitely based on a 1931 novel of the same name by Vladislav Vančura. It is often regarded by film critics to be one of the greatest Czech films ever made.

Set in the High Middle Ages, the story focuses on two rival parties, a bandit village and a passing group of German nobles. In between these two parties is the opportunistic Lazar and his daughter, Marketa, who try to find a group to take them in. The actual plot is much harder to discern and contains a liberal amount of Mind Screw.

The film has been picked up for Blu-Ray distribution by The Criterion Collection.

Marketa Lazarová provides examples of:

  • Abduction Is Love:
    • Mikoláš kidnaps and rapes Marketa to spite her father. But they end up falling for each other. Since he wants to free her, but she refuses to leave, he decides to make her his bride.
    • Kristian falls for Alexandra, the daughter of his captor. She even frees him from his chains only to make love with him.
  • Adaptation Expansion: While the film is an Epic Movie, the original book is a small modernist novel. Adam's role and history are greatly expanded instead of being a Satellite Character to Mikoláš.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Lazar. First, when Mikoláš catch him up robbing the fallen wayfarers and spares him. Then, forgetting the lesson about Mikoláš' ways he has him badly beaten when alone. When Mikoláš comes back to get revenge on him, this time he kicks his ass and takes his daughter away.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Mikoláš' brother Adam lost an arm due to snake poisoning, while he was having sex with his own sister.
  • Animal Motif:
    • Blood Knight Mikoláš has wolves.
    • Kozlík is obviously associated with his goat hat.
    • Innocent maiden Marketa is introduced with a dove in her hands.
    • Wild beauty Alexandra is associated with snakes.
  • Anti-Villain: Kozlík. He is not a hero but has many good traits. In contrast to Lazar he knows that he makes sins and is prepared to pay for them but also he cares for his family and his children which are his main motivation.
  • Anyone Can Die: At the end of the film, most of the main characters are dead.
  • Babies Ever After: The narrator reveals that both Marketa and Alexandra gave birth and Marketa raised both kids.
  • Badass Family: Kozlík, Mikoláš and Adam are competent fights. Everyone in the clan can hold his own.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Kozlík's clan is a massive community of his own offsprings (it's even joked that he has more sons than sheep) addicted to occasional pillage and guerrilla.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Kozlík's clan is destroyed and most of its members dead. Marketa isn't allowed to return home but the film ends on a positive note as Marketa gives birth to a son and also nurses Alexandra's son.
  • Blood from the Mouth: One soldier in the final battle for Kozlík's outpost spouts blood after being hit by arrows.
  • Book Ends: Mikoláš and Marketa's interaction begins with Marketa standing near a badly injured Mikoláš and ends the very same way.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Adam and Alexandra had an affair and he got his arm chopped off because he was bitten by a snake while having sex.
  • Death Equals Redemption: The ending is sometimes interpreted a this. When Marketa comes to her wedding it is often interpreted that she brings redemption for Mikoláš due to soldiers saluting for her.
  • Defiled Forever: The reason why Lazar refuses to take his daughter back after she has spent months held by Mikoláš, though it was caused by his actions to begin with.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Mikoláš kidnaps Kristian and his guard to get a ransom from his father. Kozlík calls him on it since he should go to Saxony to claim the ransom or evens worse, it would invite a Saxons army to their village.
  • Dirty Coward: Lazar, Marketa's father has Mikoláš beaten by his man when he shows up alone to get his alliance, but piss in his pants when Mikolas comes back to get revenge and kidnap his daughter.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Marketa is introduced as a vision shared by her father and Mikoláš, symbolically holding a dove in her hands.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep":
    • The king's captain is nicknamed by everyone Pivo (in Czech it means "beer") because he was previously a merchant who brewed his own beer.
    • Mikoláš, Adam and Alexandra's father is known as Kozlík ("little goat" in Czech) due to the goat's skin he wears to hide his wounded skull.
  • Eye Scream: An arrow-in-the-eye example.
  • Foil:
  • Handicapped Badass: Adam lost an arm but still is a match for skilled soldiers.
  • The Hero Dies: Mikoláš dies from his wounds at the end.
  • Historical Fiction: Set in the High Middle Ages, towards the end of the 13th century.
  • Honor Before Reason: Mikoláš and his brothers know that trying the rescue of their father is a suicide mission, but would try anyway because let their father being executed would shame them.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: This is Adam's attitude to Marketa until his older brother decide to reclaim her for himself.
  • The Ingenue: Marketa has been brought up mostly by nuns, in a sheltered environment and is horrified to find out her father's most vile actions.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Though not explicitly stated in the film, Lazar's refuse to ally with Kozlík against the king is well-reasoned. It's obvious that they wouldn't have a chance to win, so he prefers paying the king a fine and eventually start stealing again.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Again, Lazar. Aside to the Kick the Dog moment when he has Mikoláš beaten when he shows up in peace (and even previously spared his life), he doesn't get better. He refuses to accept his daughter coming back home since she's now Defiled Forever, though it was caused by his actions to begin with.
  • Kubrick Stare: Courtesy of Marketa.
  • Language of Love: Kristian is German, Alexandra is Czech but they start an affair which ends in pregnancy without speaking each other's language.
  • Legend: The Title Cards and narration give the effect of a folk tale.
  • Let Me Tell You a Story: During the montage of Marketa's rape, Kozlík's wife tells her child the story of Straba the Werewolf, a savage wolf-man who is forbidden to ever reconnect with men's society for his crime of abducting and then killing his bride.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Alexandra is a wild beauty, who rides horses like men and flays animals herself, while her lover Kristian is a Pretty Boy and a Sheltered Aristocrat.
  • Mind Screw: Religious symbols, shots of wild animals and an almost indiscernible plot make this quite a heady film.
  • Mooning: One of Kozlík's men does this to taunt the Germans besieging them.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Lazar has Mikoláš beaten to a pulp by his men when he shows up to his keep to make an alliance against the king. His clan doesn't take this well.
  • Nuns Are Spooky: They chant in unison and ambiguously have the power to incite God's will. Not to mention the weird lesbian dream sequence.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The movie ends with Marketa walking off into the distance.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Zdeněk Liška's deeply ominous soundtrack.
  • One-Woman Wail: A single female voice wails over the opening credits.
  • Onscreen Chapter Titles: The story is divided into chapters each opening with a title card.
  • Pet the Dog: Though he has just raped her, Mikoláš openly defies his father when he wants to torture Marketa, meaning he's developing feelings for her. She eventually becomes somewhat of a Morality Pet for him.
  • Random Events Plot: Large portions of the film, which are seemingly randomly inter-cut with flashbacks, dream sequences and long ambiguous conversations.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Mikoláš gets his revenge on Lazar by stealing his daughter, seemingly not paying attention at first to the A Match Made in Stockholm trope.
  • Savage Wolves: Shown in the wild and chasing after the Captain.
  • Scenery Gorn: Yes, but freezing, wild and wasted Scenery Gorn counts also as a Scenery Porn if you like this kind of landscape.
  • Secondary Character Title: Title refers to Marketa. Her role in the story is actually very small and Mikoláš seems to be the actual protagonist.
  • Snow Means Death: Harsh winter seems to be one of the ever-present protagonists.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Valley of Bees is a medieval epic directed by Vlacil, which came out a year later. It has to be noted that for The Valley of Bees was shot at the same time of Marketa Lazarová due to Development Hell for the latter and massive budget reason: costumes from Marketa Lazarová are even recycled in The Valley of Bees.
    • The Valley of Bees and Markéta Lazarová are sometimes considered parts of "Vláčil's Medieval" trilogy along with The Devil's Trap.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Alexandra and Kristian are forbidden to get married by Kristian's father.
  • Storming the Castle: Mikoláš attempts to storm the keep where his father is taken captive. He doesn't succeed, ends up fatally injured and gets executed.
  • Taking the Veil: Marketa tries to do this at the end when there is nowhere else to turn, but she is ultimately denied the opportunity, perhaps because of her past exploits.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Mikoláš surely qualifies. Small wonder that Marketa fell for him.
  • Unkempt Beauty: Alexandra is introduced flaying a cow and never wears pretty gowns like Marketa, but never loses a bit of her attractiveness.
  • Villain Protagonist: Mikoláš is considered the conventional protagonist of the film. He has many traits that make him more of a villain than a hero.
  • Virgin in a White Dress: Pure and virginal Marketa wears often white gowns.
  • Widowed at the Wedding: Marketa gets to marry Mikoláš before he dies.
  • Working-Class Hero: The king's captain is a former beer merchant, thus his nickname.
  • World of Ham: Given the massive amount of scenery, it is only natural that everyone wants to take a bite.