I Saw A Film!

Another product of the brilliant Czech animation/director Karel Zeman. Again I’ll mention his tremendous influence on the European animation masters, and also our beloved Terry Gilliam, who deeply infused the style into Monty Python’s look, and feel, as well as seemlessly interrupting and adding to the feature films. Zeman’s style incorporates live action mixed with public domain artworks, mixed with original works. It is surreal, humorous and Dadaist.

The premise of this story is about a plowman, minding his own business, when the “recruiters” arrive. Men employed by the lordships at war to locate able bodies and gang-press them into service. Service, in this instance, for what would become known as the Thirty Years War. A roundly egotistical and deadly farce of the early-to mid seventeeth century between German deadly upper-class nitwits and then, in time incorporated more of Europe. Religious differences often played large, and lots of other gang alliances that wound up killing millions of people, mainly due to starvation and disease, but all a result of asinine ruling class stubbornness. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this feud, but one thing we can all agree on is that it wasn’t worth any of the lives it took.

Zeman has the perfect anti-war backdrop to foist his three protagonists into, a changing-with-the-wind conflict that leaves survivors having to schizophrenically change their alliances and flip flop hats and emblems (beautifully demonstrated through some artistic edits. During a flamboyant mercenary introduction (his cape, indeed has the opposite emblem on the inside, and his hat, as he twists it in the air, magically switches color). The musketeers gun one another down in lines, as they used to, and the survivors grab loot and run, until they run into the next soldiers and get arrested. Everyone at this point has been multiply threatened with hanging, and when our three, the mercenary, the plowman and the lovely lady jester end up chained in a dungeon (though, the jester is able to slip her foot in and out of the cuff) a series of outlandish events wind up changing fortunes and have them soon enough fighting their way through the elaborately ornate castle where the rival officer (a Popinjay), vying for the attentions of a beautiful royal, sends hoards of swordsmen, until dinner is served, whereupon all the men feed their guts instead! It’s difficult to describe, and the layers of jokes, plots, and over-riding absurdities create a sensation of being lost in a confused world, which, no doubt, is a deliberate exercise for the events at hand. This isn’t the sort of film like Come and See, or other terrifying hero dramas of more recent conflicts, the Thirty Years War is far enough in the past for us to feel alienated from so that we can snort and shake our heads without any sense of prideful attachment. Plus, it affords beautiful artwork and fantasy from an age we’re not inundated with on a daily basis.

One of my favorite jokes is the court artist, who has been painting the officer lover of the feudal lady of the castle, he’s now on the third one, which he insists is always the best one, but argues that he doesn’t want to change the boots in the picture as he did such a good job rendering them, and really it doesn’t matter, does it?

This film will cost you a few bones to experience on American Amazon Prime (it was great fun on my hand-me-down biggish screen TV), but you can buy it for 7.99 which is probably a worthwhile deal.

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