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






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