The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Miraculous Virgin (1967/Czechoslovakia/dir. Stefan Uher) appeared at #86 on my original list.
What it is • We are in a wartorn European city. The war is not named, and I don't think the city is either, although the film was shot in Bratislava (emphasis on the "Slovakia" in Czechoslovakia, thank you very much). Out of nowhere, a beautiful, mysterious woman named Annabella (Jolanta Umecka) appears. Is she a flesh-and-blood refugee needing to be hidden from the nationalist authorities who will deport her? Is she a metaphorical muse, inspiring the artists who flutter frustratingly around her like moths to the flame? Or is she the moth and they the flame, their desperate desire a threat to her own identity and security? The film unfolds through a series of fluid, graceful poetic gestures - surrealism expressed not just through the imagery and the subtle, evocative soundscape but also the way this imagery is revealed and explored. If other films of the Czechoslovakian New Wave express surrealism through screenplay or editing, Miraculous Virgin utilizes camera movement to pleasurably disorient our senses.
Why I like it •
This film is just a beautiful visual experience from beginning to end. Its themes are also compelling because it plants a foot in both psychological realism and mythological surrealism, creating a character who functions both as a figment of imagination and an independent subject. I wish I could write in more detail about the movie but sadly it is unavailable to me at present. This is almost certainly the most obscure title on my "favorites" list (its only rival being La Vieja Memoria at #100). I was only able to see it originally when a brief online acquaintance offered a password to an ultra-insulated website where I could access the movie. A secret "open sesame" to enter this cave of treasures and when I left, the opening closed behind me, leaving me to wonder if I'd dreamed the whole thing up. How appropriate to the wistful, fleeting, dreamlike nature of the film itself.
How you can see it • Apparently it is available as a DVD from this and this service, neither of which I can at all vouch for, or quite figure out. Otherwise...good luck! To learn more about the movie, you can read the review I wrote after my first and only viewing. And you can watch a clip on YouTube - the only place any footage of the movie whatosever is readily available. Hat tip to the mysterious LEAVES who pointed me in this direction in the first place, back when I was planning to cover several Czechoslovakian films for a short series.
What do you think? • Have you managed to see this? How so? What other Slovakian films have you seen, and do you notice any sharp distinctions from Czech filmmakers, even though they were part of the same country at the time? Do you believe Annabella's significance is purely metaphorical? Does she exist as a human character for you as well? Do you assume the film takes place during World War II, or in a more imaginary setting? Did you observe any particular patterns or visual motifs (one commentator has noticed the repetition of "filling and emptying" imagery)? There is one scene where Annabella visits a character's bedroom that had to me a distinctively timeless feel to it - almost like it could have taken place with American teenagers in the present or recent past - did it have that feel to you as well? Are there any older films that have similar moments, that almost startle you with a similar sense of present-tense immediacy?
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Previous week: Platform (#87)
Next week: Schindler's List (#85)