Friday, April 1, 2016

Adrift / Touha zvaná Anada (1971)

Adrift was one of the last, if not the last, Czechoslovak New Wave films before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Filming was actually interrupted by the invasion, with a military bridge being temporarily erected at the filming site on the banks of the Danube River. Adrift’s co-director and co-writer (academy award winning filmmaker Ján Kadár) then fled the country and made another film in the US, The Angel Levine. After the loosening of Soviet control in Czechoslovakia in 1969, Kadár returned, and, after getting everyone back together, filming for Adrift resumed.

I became interested in Adrift (or my preferred title: A Desire Called Anada) at random while scanning for new older foreign films to watch. One drew me in by its poster design (I know, typical) that put me in the mood for a haunting, surreal fantasy about a water nymph. I also saw that it was Czechoslovak, which had me recalling At the Mansion of Madness favorites Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) and Morgiana (1972). I’ve also been meaning to explore more Czechoslovak New Wave films, especially for this site, so I kind of committed myself to Adrift for review before even watching it. I decided not to read anything about it and go in fresh without knowing what it was about or if it was any good. (Yep, that’s how this blogger sometimes picks movies). Spoiler: it’s good.

Adrift is a haunting drama, the second adaptation of Hungarian novel, by Lajos Zilahy, Valamit visz a viz (1928), focusing on the psychological internalization of a workaholic fisherman, Janos, and how his conscientious moral reasoning contradicts his subconscious intentions.

An enigmatic beauty, Anada (Paula Pritchett), is adrift in the Danube River. She’s pulled from the water by fisherman János (Rade Markovic) and resuscitated by his wife Zuzka (Milena Dravic). No one knows where on Earth she’s washed up from, or who she is, or what she is. She doesn’t tell anyone nor does anyone try too hard to interrogate her. After she recovers, they let her stay with them, helping out with work to earn her keep, and in the process Anada essentially, and unwillingly, complicates the marriage between János and Zuzka for a while before disappearing back into the river.

The narrative to Adrift is of the non-linear sort, beginning towards the end of the story, with the pre-denouement scene, where Janos is aiding and preparing medicine for his bed-ridden wife after she’s contracted typhus. He prepares her medicine and leaves it nearby to investigate shouts from outside coming from his father-in-law. Apparently the young girl, Anada, staying with them has disrobed and thrown herself into the river. It’s obvious she meant a lot to Janos. He grieves by the waterside after failing to save her from being taken by the river.

The narrative then flashes back to when they first pulled her from the river an indeterminate amount of time ago, but not before shifting to a recurring setting of Janos at a campfire with three men. They appear to be fellow fishing workers/buddies, but their insistent interest about Anada and Janos made them seem like law men, in what was starting to feel like a trial of sorts. I have analyzed it more than once, and I am convinced the three fishermen represent Janos’s conscience, with the story being exposed in flashback while frequently returning back to the campfire scene, a not so typical framing-device.

There is an inner-mental conflict taking place, and Janos is in denial of something that is pushing guilt on him, and, at the campfire, he is defending himself to his conscience. Inner conscience debates can take the mental appearance of consulting with imaginary friends, the people we are talking to when we talk to ourselves. These advice giving figures vanish from sight after an important point of no return, during the climax, symbolizing that real sinners have no conscience. I believe the moral of the story is that there are some sins we can’t come back from.

The conflict at first has to do with Janos wanting Anada to leave, ostensibly because she’s an outsider and doesn’t really belong there, but it’s actually because he’s fallen for her, a guilt that shakes the core of his inner peace, especially since he’s married. This dilemma takes a toll on him, even becoming jealous when he thinks Anada is seeing a local man, Kristof (Ivan Darvas), although Janos never sees them together. He creates mental fabrications to try and erase his guilt, by personally blaming Kristof for Anada’s apparent suicide. When he calls her off to the side to ask her to leave, instead of coming out with the words, he kisses her instead. Noir-ish voice-overs reveal him saying the words in his head, but his action of kissing her betrays his initial moral resolve and brings to the fore his actual subconscious resolve.

Despite Janos’s depressions, there is an air of enchantment about the film, especially considering a fantastic moment around the dinning room lamp (a lamp that gets a lot of symbolic play), after Zuzka and Anada have a kind of bonding session in the dark, when the film takes a sudden, brief, and quite remarkable, expressionistic turn. Also, there are some spellbinding visual highlights that include a nude Anada submerging and re-emerging from the river as well as an atmospheric, ethereal foggy boat ride to the church fair scene.

The soundtrack ranges from intrusive to sublime, with the intrusive parts standing out more. I personally like how different it is, but some of the giggly moviegoers that I’ve been around many times who go to screenings of older movies would be in a riot during some of the moments with the more conflicting carnival-like theme or the marching waltz.

Both of the female leads give great performances. Aside from being an actor, Paula Pritchett is also a model, and the filmmakers do capitalize on her beauty, and she has the right demigoddess, dark-haired look to play someone like Anada. Zuzka is just as beautiful and I believe is given more dialogue. Her soft voice is soothing, and everything she says is like poetry (except for when she’s calling for her chickens in one scene). Despite falling ill, she comes off as the strongest character, as she endures without compromise, unlike her husband. Also, it was her that was savvy enough to realize Anada was still alive and bring her back to consciousness with CPR after she nearly drowns.

So the film never directly addresses the question: who is Anada? If she’s a villain, she’s an unwilling one, who’s more or less driven Janos to villainy. And ostensibly, her shame at this may be the reason for her drowning suicide, but what of her origin? And again who is she? I’ve thought about it, and there are clues that point to the possibility that Anada might be an earthly embodiment of the Greek Goddess of Spring Persephone.

Anyone familiar with Persephone will know that she is the Queen of the Underworld, where she spends four months of the year with her husband Hades, which coincides with the period of winter on Earth. Hades did kidnap her when she was young, with Zeus’s, her father’s, blessing. This did not sit well with Persephone’s mother, Demeter, who convinced Zeus to allow Persephone to return to her. Persephone missed her mother, and she grieved at first at being made Hades’ queen, but she eventually grew to love Hades. Persephone eats from a pomegranate and as a rule can never leave the Underworld, but a compromise is made, where she must spend part of the year with Hades and the rest of the year on Earth with her mother. When she returns to her Earthly life, it harbors the coming of spring and likewise the death of winter.

When she comes to Earth, Persephone doesn’t always visit her mother, and when she doesn’t, it is sometimes unknown what she is up to.

Anada seemed Goddess-like to me, a supernatural being that could be walking the Earth for a set period. As a Goddess who may sometimes decide to emerge to Earth in different locations, her yearly Earth walk may’ve brought her by chance to Janos’s fishing hut. There she assumes the name of Anada, finds a friend in Zuzka and a man who eventually wishes to possess her. When her time is up, or after witnessing enough of the sad state of affairs at this locale, she returns to the underworld through the same route she came. Consider when after she apparently drowns herself, the camera briefly focuses on a naturally occurring whirlpool, which would signify her descent.

Persephone is usually associated with scenes of lush vegetation, and while in the film there isn’t any indication of oncoming vegetation per se, Anada does come from a river that has supplied fish, the source of wellbeing and livelihood to Janos, his family, his elders, and the community for a long time, something that has the same purpose as vegetation, to bring and maintain life.

Persephone’s arrival on Earth signifies the birth of spring, so one of the biggest clues for me is Zuzka’s illness and her account of the death-of-winter ceremony and what it signifies. Anada and Zuzka become close in a non-sexual intimate way. Eventually Zuzka becomes terminally ill. While sick, Zuzka relates a ceremony to Janos that she remembers, from when she was a child, which signifies the death of winter and the birth of spring. In a dreamlike flashback, the ritual is depicted with young girls setting fire to an idol on a small boat and sending it downstream. When he thinks she will die, Janos fantasizes about the same death-of-winter ceremony, but it is instead Zuzka’s funeral, and it happens to consist of drink and dance, a subtle way of hinting that he is looking forward to her passing (the death of winter) and a new life with Anada (the birth of Spring). In addition, at one of the few interesting dinner table scenes, Janos notes, in comparison to everyone else eating with their hands, how Anada eats daintily with a fork like a Duchess (nay, more like a queen), further evidencing her potential royal origin.

Coming into Adrift, I didn’t know what to expect. Plot events don’t always happen in chronological order, but I didn’t have a hard time following it. As is usually the case, there’s a lot of dialogue, yet most of it is interesting, and I did enjoy coming up with interpretations for this review. It’s a little long, yet the story kind of grows on you with repeat views, and I really liked how the filmmakers handled the ending and the lesson it imparted. The lead’s depression, paranoia, jealousy, and inner conflict can get a little heavy handed, but it’s kind of the point, as the movie mostly deals with Janos and the multitude of mistakes he frequently makes. The music sometimes works quite well, but other times it is unfortunately distracting. Fortunately, there are a lot of great visuals and experimental segments that I do think hit the mark. Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos’ Adrift is a well done, mentally stimulating drama that sometimes steers briefly into the fantastique. 

There is something beautifully haunting about Anada, and perhaps it’s her enigma that makes her that way, but I really do believe that there are enough clues in the movie to suggest that Anada is Persephone. 

© At the Mansion of Madness

Monday, February 22, 2016

Marta (1971)

Austrian actor Marisa Mell (born Marlies Theres Moitzi) is remembered by most as a sexy ‘60s cult icon, particularly as Diabolik’s girlfriend/partner-in-crime, Eva, in Mario Bava’s comic adaptation Danger: Diabolik (1968), but Mell also starred in a fine line of Euro-thriller dramas, usually playing the seductive swindler-murderess type – Death will Have your Eyes (1974) and Diary of an Erotic Murderess (1975) to name a couple. Her particular attention-grabbing, statuesque presence could make the most routine mystery plot a delight to sit through. However, she was underutilized in her movie career in certain respects; considering her demigoddess-like physiognomy, it’s unfortunate that she didn’t play more fantastical or otherworldly characters in fantasy or horror films; and along with Margaret Lee, I thought of her as a Eurospy girl that should’ve eventually been a real Bond girl.

A number of Marisa Mell starring vehicles currently suffer from not having proper releases, such as a little seen Spanish/Italian mystery thriller, directed and co-written by Jose Antonio Nieves Conde, called Marta aka …dopo di che, uccide il maschio e lo divora. I had been interested in checking it out for a while, and when a reader mentioned the film to me, I was finally driven to track down a copy and watch it. The version I first watched didn’t have the best image quality, but even worse was that it had all of Marisa Mell’s nude scenes edited out (the nerve), but I liked it enough to buy a DVD-R of the uncut version, which, sadly, was of even lower image quality; Marta is obviously in need of proper restoration.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Spasmo (1974)

I know now that it’s Italian for ‘spasm’ (or a name giallo fans might give their pets), but when I first watched this film’s delirious trailer, I remember thinking: “who or what is Spasmo?” and after I saw the movie, I still didn’t know what Spasmo was. It’s just one of those appealing one word titles that, like Orgasmo, somehow complement the film rather well.

You don’t forget a title and a film like Spasmo. As for the details of the story and characters, that can get a little hazy, not just with time but even upon reflection the following day, since there’s so much to it. Images of assaulted mannequins meld with memories of murdered characters that may or may not have been real from the perspective of the protagonist, who is either losing his mind or is in the worst company ever. It really makes you wonder if Umberto Lenzi’s experimental giallo is either a confusing mess or a labyrinth of mysteries and riddles for the viewer to explore and analyze.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Devil of Kreuzberg (2015)

It’s always been interesting to get to know fellow film bloggers through their writing or vlogs. You come across a lot of great writers with a mutual passion for European genre and horror movies, yet some of them have a passion that goes beyond just talking about the movies; they make them too. Now, I confess to knowing nothing about filmmaking and I probably never will, but I can only imagine what kind of intense commitment and passion must go in to making a genre love letter like The Devil of Kreuzberg, a medium-length German gothic horror film from indie filmmaker, and I might point out fellow film blogger, Alexander Bakshaev.

I’ve followed Alex on Trash Film Addict for a few years now, so I was familiar with what kind of films he’s interested in and looking forward to how someone who knows a lot about vintage gothic horror would tackle a low-budget gothic horror film in 2015, and I’ve got to say I was impressed.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Dracula Saga (1973)

Count Dracula seems to have a habit of always being reborn, both within the stories themselves as well as in different incarnations across the board of entertainment media. He’s become so synonymous with horror and Halloween that he will never leave the public consciousness. You can kill him off with a wooden stake or by overexposing him with so many variations, adaptations, tie-ins, or spin-offs, but he’s never going away; he’ll always be reborn. And why shouldn’t he? Like most great ideas, there always seems to be plenty more to explore. I wonder if Bram Stoker knew just how immortal his creation would turn out to be and that killing him off at the end of the novel was only the beginning.

Much like Hammer’s Dracula films, the Spanish horror film The Dracula Saga / La saga de los Drácula is a take that explores further possibilities with The Count. With a stretch of the imagination, it kind of works as an unofficial prequel to Stoker's Dracula, but it’s rather more of an alteration of sorts that disregards the events of the original story and takes liberties to imagine what Dracula’s family would be like, with a story told primarily through Dracula’s estranged granddaughter, Berta (Tina Sáinz – I could’ve easily seen Emma Cohen in this role as well). Although there are narrations from Dracula at the beginning and at the end, telling the story at the end as if it was his story all along, while the English trailer is narrated by Berta, who claims this is her story, so it's a bit of a toss up as to whose story this really is. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Monster of the Opera / Il mostro dell’opera (1964)

Il mostro dell’opera is not quite what you’d call an adaptation but more an experimental variation of The Phantom of the Opera. But it’s unlikely that viewers will come to this side of Eurocult obscurity just to see what replacing The Phantom with a Count Dracula-esque vampire in a beloved and well-known canon would be like; most probably seek this out because of the movie’s co-writer/director Renato Polselli. I know I did.

If you’re a fan of Polselli’s The Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), of which this makes a good double bill with, you are going to love this, and if you’re a fan of Polselli’s delirious S&M fever nightmares from the early ‘70s, you’ll love this too, because Il mostro dell’opera is like a predecessor to Delirium (1972) and Rites, Black Magic and Secret Orgies in the Fourteenth Century (1973) aka The Reincarnation of Isabel – minus the turbulent editing. It builds on everything that made The Vampire and the Ballerina a fun time but is progressive in a sense with certain erotic and expressionistic elements that in contrast to its old-fashioned, classic look makes it feel ahead of its time.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “oh no, he’s reviewing another freaking giallo again,” but this isn’t just another giallo.
Short Night of Glass Dolls, Aldo Lado’s directorial debut, is actually quite the surprise, in that it manages to meet, defy, and exceed expectations right up from its mellow start to its killer climax. It interweaves elements from occult horror and the detective thriller into a nonlinear narrative that has a little bit of a Citizen Kane (1941) format and a plot that’s driven by the interesting mystery of what could’ve befallen its unfortunate protagonist. The explanation is pretty much what you’d expect, but the sheer weirdness and the way it plays out, not to mention the alternate Prague setting, causes Short Night to be refreshingly different from the more common giallo of the early ‘70s and yet still look and feel very much like one.

The success of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) was still freshly permeating its influence around this time, and it’s no surprise that numerous films continued to capitalize on its black magic, occult, and conspiracy themes, and Short Night is no exception, with murders, kidnappings, and sanity breakdowns feeling orchestrated by some sort of secret order, also bringing to mind The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974).

Monday, August 17, 2015

Les gloutonnes (1973)

With the French productions The Lustful Amazons (1973) and Les gloutonnes, Jess Franco wrote and directed two brazenly erotic takes on Italy’s own Hercules counterpart Maciste, a recurring cinematic hero from the peplum genre with respectable origins dating back to the silent film era, starting with Cabiria (1914). A different character altogether, Franco’s Maciste, played by Wal Davis, is more of a medieval playboy, adventuring to new lands full of sex hungry Amazons, randy mythical queens, and horny Atlanteans, saving the day, satisfying entire tribes, and living to tell about it.
The Lustful Amazons contains some of the most entertaining comedic sex scenes, with top tier Franco babes Alice Arno, Kali Hansa, and Lina Romay, that are quite arousing to watch, and they manage to keep an otherwise underwhelming film lively enough to sit through with a minimal level of enjoyment. On the other hand, the longer sex interludes in Les gloutonnes manage to drag down what is actually an intriguing erotic fantasy/adventure film. The settings for some of the more detached porn scenes, seemingly edited into the film, are dark and surreal (done with Franco’s tendency for up-close body worship) but couldn’t be more unnecessarily drawn out, even in a Jess Franco film, where I’m usually conditioned for such lengthy interludes.

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