It is 1897—the year of the publication of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. Near Werewolfsville in the Carpathians, opera singer Count Teleke, accompanied by his manservant, while out walking comes across the near-dead body of a gamekeeper who visited “Devil’s Castle,” the domain of the mysterious Baron Gorc; but the poor man has forgotten everything that happened there—a reference, perhaps, to Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974). But Oldřich Lipský’s Czech comedy-adventure Tajemství hradu v Karpatech, from Jules Verne’s Le château des Carpathes, owes more to late Georges Franju, and of course Lipský’s own marvelous sense of humor and Bosch-busy style. Count Teleke’s decision to penetrate Devil’s Castle is prompted by his conviction that his beloved, opera diva Salsa Verde, has been imprisoned by Gorc.
I haven’t read the Verne novel, so I do not know whether the film’s artillery of technological devices and gadgets—among others, closed-circuit television, telephone, holocaustic detonation device—are witty anachronisms or imaginative speculations. Whatever; they are terrifically used in the plot, the inventions of a mad-genius scientist, Strangelove’s ancestor, who has replaced his missing hand with a device that can dispense lethal blade, tooth brush or a number of other possibilities.
Beautifully used as well is Count Teleke’s singing voice, whose loud high notes shatter glass. In a sepia flashback, the Count sings for his father, causing a chandelier to fall on Pop, killing him. In the present, the Count recalls: “My father ceased from that day to deter me from pursuing my dream.” The film is very funny both visually and verbally.
Salsa Verde, it turns out, is dead, her appearance the professor’s cinematic illusion—part of Lipský’s satirical nailing of Communist Czechoslovakia’s bogus self-mythology.
Yet again, Lipský dazzles and delights.
B(U)Y THE BOOK
MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.
Tags: east european cinema