František Vlá?il’s Marketa Lazarová makes its North American home video debut through Criterion, who present the film on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer is taken from a 4k restoration of the film.
I’m not sure how the film’s source materials have held up over the years, but no matter what condition they have been in this presentation is still a stunner. The print is virtually flawless, only a few minor marks remaining, all thanks to a vigorous frame-by-frame restoration that’s demonstrated in a documentary included on the disc.
The film remains sharp, clearly defining all details on the elaborate costumes and weapons that appear throughout, and film grain is intact, looking natural. The digital transfer doesn’t present any noticeable issues in the way of artifacts or compression, so the image looks like a film. Contrast looks to be boosted a bit, and the image has a more silver-like look, but I’m pretty sure all of this is intentional stylistic choices on the part of the director.
The film’s photography is stunning and this restoration and transfer certainly do it justice. Ultimately it’s an incredible video delivery of a beautiful looking film. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion loads on a wonderful trove of supplements, examining the film’s production, its source novel, its director, and its place in Czech cinema. First is a 21-minute documentary from 1989 called In the Web of Time, which features an interview with director František Vlá?il where he talks about some of his work, starting with Marketa Lazarová (his “most difficult film” to make) and then talking about his visual sense, how he considers the medium a form of poetry, and his building of story. Unfortunately it’s short, and the only feature that features the director talking about his work, but it’s an enlightening and engaging one.
Criterion then includes a number of new interviews with scholars and members of the cast and crew, starting with an interview with film scholar Peter Hames. Hames quickly goes over Vlá?il’s early career, which actually involved animation, documentary, and educational work, before he would eventually become a film director, a path he had never originally considered. He then talks about the original novel, the adaptation, and the incredible amount of work and research that went into making it as authentic as possible, despite the handicap of there actually being very little information to go on about people of the time period. He then talks about its imagery, the editing, and overall style for the remainder of its 18-minutes.
Film critic Antonín Liehm talks about the beginnings of the project and how Vlá?il came to direct it. He also covers the difficulties in bringing the novel to film and its stature over the years. For the last few minutes he talks about the State funded film industry of the time. The interview is unfortunately only a short 9-minutes.
Criterion then gathers together actors Magda Vášáryová, Ivan Pulúch, and Vlastimil Harapes for the feature Marketa’s Actors. The three recall the difficult shoot and the heavy preparation that went into getting ready for the film. There are plenty of anecdotes they all share, a lot of it involving Vášáryová who, being the young blonde on set, received a lot of attention from the various males (her aunt was apparently there, though, so that stopped any advances.) The actors also express some frustrations on his shooting style: since the director was so concerned about the final image he left no room for the actors to improvise or plan their own movements. Even being off mark by the slightest would call for the need of a reshoot of the scene, which was more than maddening for the performers. At around 40-minutes this feature probably provides the most informative amount of material on the director and his style.
Costume designer Theodor Pišt?k then talks about the film’s costumes and props for 27-minutes. He goes into great detail about the research that went into the film, with very little material to go by to cover the time period in which the film takes place. He also goes into other inspirations and explains his designs for the individual characters, and how important it was to treat the costumes for even the miniscule characters with the same level of importance as the main ones. He also expresses his annoyance with how these costumes and weapons (which were all hand forged) were treated by the studio afterwards: they were lost, destroyed, or refurbished for other films. Mixed in with design sketches this is probably my favourite feature on the release.
Vlá?il, who used to work in animation, would draw out everything for a film with his planned compositions. Criterion includes less than 30 images of storyboards drawn by the director, which includes close-ups on some of the frames. We also get a 10-minute feature on the restoration that features an interview with restorer Ivo Marák. It also provides some behind-the-scenes footage of the film being scanned, employees digitally removing blemishes, and then shows the finished product to be shipped to theaters: the film on a 120 GB drive (which isn’t as exciting as cans of reels Marák freely admits.) The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer.
Criterion then includes a rather thick 40-page booklet featuring an essay on the film by Tom Gunning, an essay on the film and novel by Alex Zucker (who first recalls amusingly how he first saw the film,) and then a reprint of an interview with Vlá?il.
I would have appreciated a scholarly commentary on this one, but the new interviews Criterion has recorded do offer some excellent insight into the film and its director. 8/10