Genre: Psychological Drama
Directed by Oscar-winning Czechoslovak duo Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos, this piece is mystical, beautiful and unnerving. Earlier work from the two had been banned under Soviet Realism due to its abstract style. Does this 1971 fever dream hold up today?
Through a nonlinear structure, we see the unravelling story of Yanos (Rade Markovic), a Czech fisherman who rescues the enigmatic young Anada (Paula Pritchett) from the river. As Yanos becomes tempted by the beautiful girl, his wife Zuzka (Milena Dravic) diminishes into illness. Yanos himself half-remembers the past events and is forced to re-live them as flashbacks. Between flashbacks, Yanos is questioned by a Greek-Chorus like group of men from a local bar in a feverish drunken dream.
This is not a film to take literally. It reads almost like a folk tale- a warning against unfaithfulness in thought and marriage, to appreciate that you have lest you lose it forever. Stylistically, it could be compared to a low-fi Inception. The visuals (Vladimmir Novotny) are well-framed and lighting is used to colourfully illustrate the changes in Yanos’ perceptions and mood as he falls deeper into his confusion. As a technical piece, this film is quite the catch; as a story, it asks much of an audience for what it is. Its complexity can sometimes wash away meaning. The piece flows like the river from one disconnected scene to the other and requires rapt attention to keep track of. It is shot in a very bold style, recreating half-remembered memory- there are bits that cannot be explained and ask the audience to construct their own meaning. Anada seems like a figment of Yanos’ imagination symbolising disloyal thought and desire. Pritchett is a pretty picture, but she fails to catch the eye with anything other than her figure- her performance comes off as bland. She is not the film’s only confounding character either- we see at times the couple’s young son and a rich-looking man from nearby. The boy leaves home, the man is blinded in a car accident, but they feel shallow due to a small amount of screen time and the choppy pace of this work. Despite all this, the style of the film makes the otherwise rather simple story compelling. The editing leads an audience to think of their own memories that have become blurred, become more of a feeling than a record of real events. Markovik’s performance and the surrealism offer us reasons to watch however- but this is no evening’s light entertainment. Watch this re-release, but have friends around to talk about it afterwards and confirm what you saw was real.