Saturday, November 14, 2009
The Countess *1/2
Director: Julie Delpy
Cast: Julie Delpy, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl
Anamaria Marinca, Andy Gatjen, Sebastian Blomberg
You gotta give it to Julie Delpy; few actors who direct themselves, would choose to play a deranged, blood thirsty noblewoman who's not always lit in the best way.
Then again, it makes total sense that she would choose to play someone who can be called monstrous, as opposed to a heroine, because of the challenge they would represent to act and direct.
Delpy plays Countess Erzebet Bathory, who lived in the 17th century, she's the most powerful woman in the empire (even the king owes her money).
When her husband dies, she falls madly in love with Istvan Thurzo (Brühl) a man two decades younger than her. He's the son of Gyorgyo Thurzo (Hurt), a rich man Erzebet refused to marry and who's after her fortune.
Infuriated by the fact that she spoiled his strategic allegiance, more than his male pride, he stops the affair and makes Erzebet believe Istvan is no longer in love with her.
Heartbroken she believes he dumped her because she looks old and decides the best way to regain her youthful looks is to kill virgin girls and bathe in their freshly squeezed blood.
The real life Bathory allegedly inspired the creation of Dracula and her deeds have haunted the imagination for centuries. Delpy seemingly wanted to capture the complexities of this woman and prevent her story from becoming a folktale.
But as movies go, they really don't come as stale and incoherent as this one. Despite the quality of the cast, they all move and talk as if they were rehearsing for a high school Renaissance fair.
Their affected speeches are funnier than powerful and when they are made to utter lines like "there is beauty in letting time do its duty" what should come out as elegant, becomes camp potential.
The main inconsistency in the film is Delpy's narrative device and how it ends up contradicting everything Bathory thinks about herself and everything the filmmaker wants us to think about her.
The movie is narrated by Istvan, which in itself makes for a digested version of whatever the "truth" is. This feels wrong mostly because when the film begins we are told that Erzebet never felt she was inferior to males.
In fact, a splendid scene, has her demean a Catholic bishop by comparing his jewels and garments to those of a luxurious noblewoman. With this she takes an aim at men and Catholics, two of the things she felt she had no need to fear.
Later in the movie we have her saying that she only kills women because "god created [boys] in his image".
Where is the woman we met at the beginning who even intimidated the king?
The logical thing would be to think she lost her mind out of love and now has assumed the biases given to her sex (witches were constantly being burnt at the stake during these days).
But she has moments of lucidity where she sends a powerful feminist message and questions the morals and values of her society.
"Your fable will keep the populace occupied for a very long time, they will be terrified of the blood thirsty myth you have made of me and forget about evils that are indeed very real" she says condemning those who judge her.
Delpy tries to make Countess Bathory both a romantic figure and a Gothic avenger, with results that don't make justice to either point of view.
Even if it tries to be profound about something that deals with the superficial, "The Countess" is ironically nothing more than a vanity project.