Morgiana and Ferat Vampire (Herz, 1972 and 1982)

I’m not really sure that I’ll see a better film this year than Morgiana, Juraj Herz’s amazingly gothic adaptation of an Alexander Grin story. The film was censored before production to remove any traces of schizophrenia, but, though Herz apparently dismissed his own film, his manic, evil end result is awesome.

I read a Film Comment interview with Peter Strickland where he cites this film as an influence on Berberian Sound Studio, but it strikes me as having more to do with his follow-up, The Duke of Burgundy. Regardless, the film’s saturation and inspired camera certainly feels close to Strickland.

Iva Janzurová plays two sisters, Klára and Viktorie, who are polar opposites. After Klára inherits their father’s wealth and also “takes” the man that Viktorie loves, the latter plots her sister’s death.

This is a great example, for me, of a film that somehow transcends its script, which is, as a standalone, good if nothing else. Janzurová’s dual performance is pitch-perfect brilliant, and Herz’s direction boils to a frenzy.

There are wide-angle cat POVs (the cat is the title character)-

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 6.05.11 PM

-a really sexual, beautiful title sequence that feels like it might be from a Wojciech Has film-

-and plenty of hallucinatory moments where Herz gets the exact performance and blocking:

These last images just above are so perfectly conceived, performance-wise. Maybe the image quality isn’t good enough, but the look that Viktorie gives to the camera at the doorway is menacing in the worst way. The last image – a hand poking from behind a curtain – gave me chills for the beckoning, scary way it moves.

I’d be hard-pressed to talk Herz without talking blocking. His reminds me a bit of Fassbinder’s. Here’s a scene that’s a good example of that.

Viktorie is visited by her “friend” Otylie (Nina Divísková). Herz designs this scene as circles and counter-circles. It starts with a CU on Viktorie, followed by her POV of Otylie at the door in a wide:

In the same shot, Otylie walks in. The camera tracks back, Otylie sits, and Viktorie enters frame. I like this early move. It feels like such an intrusion from Otylie:

We cut in tight and see Viktorie pass behind Otylie. Herz then cuts into Viktorie’s new eyeline-

-and significantly then cuts into a new angle (by my count the first image below is the fifth shot of the sequence), with Otylie’s eyeline tight to camera. After that, a tighter low angle on Viktorie:

That feels significant because it’s Viktorie’s POV and because there’s a beat here (Viktorie tries to take control of the scene).

Then a fairly elaborate shot. Wider to start. Otylie gets up and we pan with her, finding Viktorie in the foreground. We push in on Viktorie, Otylie leaves frame and we tilt down as Viktorie does:

There’s an exchange here. Otylie came in and made herself comfortable. Then Viktorie sort of slunk around her. Now it’s that in reverse: Otylie kind of slides behind Viktorie, and Viktorie sits down, making herself comfortable.

Another complex shot (the 8th of the sequence) finds Otylie now across the room (established by Viktorie’s eyeline above). She walks closer to Viktorie. We get a 2-shot from behind. She circles Viktorie again and we get an over-the shoulder:

Two close-ups, and then the beat ends (but not the scene, I don’t have the whole thing) with a nearly direct-to-camera shot-reverse-shot:

Like I said, this really reminds me of Fassbinder who loved a) a lot of movement in his blocking; b) people circling one-another; c) characters hiding something and slinking around while doing so.

This sequence is impressive if, for no other reason, the precise marks hit by the actors and the way they dance into them. Both of them seem to slither and glide from mark to mark. You can almost hear the fabric in their dresses as they move – they’re putting on airs and canceling their intentions, but with smiles plastered on their faces.

Ferat Vampire

There’s no way that David Cronenberg hasn’t seen Ferat Vampire. It’s not only the somewhat obvious similarities to Crash, but the overall mood, the combination of camp and tense drama, and the Videodrome-like body horror:

I love the plot summary of this film. Doctor Marek (played by Jirí Menzel!) becomes embroiled in a plot involving vampire cars when his co-worker and crush Mima (Dagmar Havlová) quits to become a race car driver.

What?

This film somehow mostly works. A lot of it is the humor that Herz injects throughout. I mean, taking that plot too seriously would be a recipe for disaster. But it’s also the kind of urgent undercurrents of an energy crisis and a hidden corporation pulling strings. It feels like the ’80s with the rise of conglomerates and the energy crisis of the 1970s.

Like Morgiana, this one begins with an awesome title sequence:

Unlike Morgiana, the blocking in Ferat Vampire feels far more straightforward and traditional. Like this shot where Mima gets into the Ferat car for the first time. Herz’s camera circles her slowly-

-landing in a close-up. It’s quite dramatic and smooth. There’s little of the hysteria of Morgiana.

Some of the great moments of Ferat Vampire are the set pieces that run parallel to the main plot. There’s a series of great interactions with a possibly-dead driver and her wheelchair-bound mother, and also other sequences that seem to function mostly as asides. Here an old woman tries to cross a street. We see Marek walk by her and then she stands alone, looking at the don’t walk symbol:

We get a different perspective, and her fear increases:

The cars whizz by and…

It’s unrelated to the plot, but it speaks to the paranoia that runs under everything in the film. It feels like a horror version of Tati’s Trafic. We get a reaction shot of impassive onlookers-

-some of whom just happen to be people we see looking on emotionlessly at other parts of the film:

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 8.57.07 AM

The film is conspiratorial and Herz uses these extras and asides like this to elevate the plot into something even more sinister.

 

 

 

 

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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