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  Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians, The Operatic Insanity
Year: 1981
Director: Oldrich Lipský
Stars: Michal Docolomanský, Evelyna Steimarová, Vlastimil Brodský, Milos Kopecký, Rudolf Hrusínský, Augustín Kubán, Jan Hartl, Jaroslava Kretschmerová, Oldrich Velen, Míla Myslíková, Samuel Adamcík, Jan Skopecek, Václav Kotva, Jirí Lír, Helena Ruzicková
Genre: Drama, Weirdo, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Count Teleke of Tölökö (Michal Docolomanský) has set out with his faithful manservant on an expedition that has led them to the Carpathian Mountains where among the autumn leaves, they notice an arm sticking out from the ground. Initially believing it to be a fake, on closer examination it belongs to a local man, who has fallen into a daze while investigating the nearby castle - everyone in his village told him not to, but he went anyway, and such its strange effect that he is suffering. But the Count believes he is onto something here, as finally he could have tracked down the Baron Gorc z Gorcu (Milos Kopecký) he has been seeking for some time; this is personal.

Oldrich Lipsky was a writer and director from the former Czechoslovakia who stayed behind after the Prague Spring and its subsequent quashing, when many of his fellow filmmakers did their best to escape and continued their careers away from the Communist regime. It may not have done his creativity any harm, as his output was marked by its wild imagination, but his reputation was nowhere near as renowned as it should have been had he made a name for himself on the world stage. As it was, he is now mainly remembered by students of cinema from behind the Iron Curtain, though you do get those select few who encounter his oeuvre and wonder "What was that?!"

This particular example was from his final decade where he had been a veteran of the scene for quite some time, based on one of Jules Verne's less famous books, though the French author had been so prolific that did not exactly narrow it down. Really it was an excuse for the director to pack his movie with as many wild and fanciful images and gags as he could, with the help of a filmmaker who also stayed put but gained celebrity among world cinema fans and animation aficionados alike: Jan Svankmajer. He designed the steampunk gadgets and machinery that littered the frame, obviously his artistry and even allowing him a chance to include some of his stop motion stylings.

That steampunk genre was not so prevalent in 1981 as it is now, though you might observe its time has come and gone, but for this reason The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians is considered a pioneer in that field, at least among those who have heard of it. Set in the last years of the nineteenth century, this nevertheless featured television and a motor scooter, among other developments: a typical shot that summed it up had the Count pontificating to anyone in earshot in the tavern while outside through the window in the background we see the titular castle, and a space rocket is blasting off from its roof. It was this sort of visual innovation that was part and parcel of Lipský's efforts and have rendered him with the cult following he has today, wacky humour and boundless imagination.

You may search in vain for anything he took seriously here, but it was present, simply approached under the guise of comedy and science fiction, even fantasy might be a more appropriate way of describing his results. The Count wants to find the Baron because the latter kidnapped the object of his affection, a fellow opera star who the Baron idolised to the point of obsession, his behaviour growing increasingly bizarre until he could restrain himself no longer and he spirited the prima donna (Evelyna Steimarová) away. Bereft but unbowed, the Count is equally obsessed with finding her again, though the villain has constructed not only a forbidding aura around his castle, but a selection of contraptions made by his mad scientist cohort (who has a mechanical arm) too. With running jokes like the Baron's beard preoccupation or the Count's supernaturally loud voice, there was always something going on, to the point where the film seems too easily distracted by its innovation, but its macabre ending was weirdly horrible, and most people will have never seen anything like it. Music by Lubos Fiser.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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