All posts by Gregory J. Smalley (366weirdmovies)

Gregory J. Smalley founded 366 Weird Movies in 2008 and has served as editor-in-chief since that time. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and his film writing has appeared online in Pop Matters and The Spool.

CAPSULE: OZMA (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: Keith John Adams

FEATURING: Ferdy Roberts, Victoria Moseley, Jun Noh, Gemma Saunders, Alice Margaroli, voice of Éva Magyar

PLOT: An insomniac widower spends the night toting around an on-the-run telepathic jellyfish creature.

Still from Ozma (2023)

COMMENTS: Jeff attributes his only slightly startled reaction to finding telepathic jellyfish Ozma abandoned in his garden to having been “well rehearsed” to accept strangeness through a lifetime of dreaming. If this film had been merely about that telepathic blob with the blinking lights and nothing else, he would have needed less rehearsal. But Ozma is entirely built on dream logic. There’s the pair of squabbling pursuers disguised as cops who use vegetables as truncheons. A woman who illustrates the story of the journey of Cleopatra’s Needle from Alexandria to London through very crude cutout animation. Rifles whose bullets have effects far from what we expect. And that’s not to mention the tiny touches, like Jeff’s unusually large bed.

And there’s one more weird thing. When Jeff begins his opening narration, he’s lying in bed, complaining of insomnia. A walking bass line accompanies his fretting, soon joined by the complaints of a muted trombone. It’s an effective accompaniment, but more noteworthy is the fact that we can see the bassist and trombonist, apparently vamping right there in Jeff’s bedroom as he tosses and turns. Throughout the movie, musicians show up in the frame with the characters, never acknowledged. The use of musicians onscreen—playing nondiegetic accompaniment, yet visible, like materialized ghosts—is unique. It’s a simple idea, but I can’t recall any movie that uses this technique in exactly this way, and none that’s so dedicated to the concept. And it’s a great idea, because the sounds here are outstanding—ranging from multiple jazz combos to a tabla, a dulcimer, and even more exotic instruments like the Ethiopian krar (harp) and the Japanese shakuhachi (bamboo flute).

It’s all pleasantly eccentric, which is much of the appeal. Ozma does, however, also explore a serious topic: the widower’s pathological, insomnia-inducing grief, which has mellowed from traumatic sadness into a permanent personality feature. Jeff’s entire story, frequently told in voiceover, is addressed to his absent wife. His journey to take the telepathic jellyfish to its appointed rendezvous reflects his adoption of a healthier relationship to his memories. Ozma is modest in means—in its household props and London public street locations, in Ferdy Roberts’s calm portrayal of Jeff, in its reliance on monochrome —but ambitious in its ideas. Ozma is musical, original and inventive: it’s not just the same old tired story about an insomniac toting a telepathic jellyfish around London.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… a surreal mission… all at once city symphony, Egyptological noir, oneiric odyssey and heady tale of psychic healing,”–Anton Bitel, SciFiNow (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MARKETA LAZAROVÁ (1967)

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Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Frantisek Vlácil

FEATURING: Frantisek Velecký, Magda Vásáryová, Ivan Palúch, Josef Kemr, Michal Kozuch, Pavla Polaskova

PLOT: In the early Middle Ages, a pair of brothers rob a caravan under protection of the King, setting off a chain of events that eventually leads to the kidnapping of Marketa, a virgin pledged to the convent.

Still from Marketa Lazarova (1967)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Dreamy pagan sequences adorn a stylized and hallucinatory landscape in Vlácil’s stark medieval epic.

COMMENTS: Although Marketa Lazarová is almost universally praised, everyone remarks on its confusing narrative. The film, which begins with a highway robbery and kidnapping, starts off with a lack of context, and the remainder of the story is fragmented, peppered with abrupt changes of scene, and with dreams, visions, and flashbacks which are sometimes impressionistic, sometimes indistinguishable from reality. The plot elements are comprehensible—a petty noble goes too far and angers the king, a virtuous maiden is snatched from her home—-but the main problem is keeping track of who is who, and where their loyalties lie. If you are prepared for confusion, you can soldier through it and the parties should sort themselves out within an hour or so. But if you would like some guidance, I’ll start this review with a short overview of the major players to get you oriented.

Despite providing the film’s title, Marketa Lazarová herself is not a prominent character until the film’s second half. The story atually centers on her eventual abductor, Mikoláš, a lanky and handsome man in a tight beard. Mikoláš’ brother and partner in banditry, Adam, is easily identified because he has only one arm (although watch out for flashbacks where he has two). Although they behave like highwaymen, Mikoláš and Adam are pseudo-nobles, the sons of Kozlík, a bald and bearded feudal yeoman who rules the walled town of Roháček. Long-haired temptress Alexandra, a brunette contrast to Marketa’s blond innocence, is their sister. In the first chapter the brothers kidnap Kristián, a German youth of noble blood, intending to ransom him. Meanwhile, Lord Lazar rules Obořiště, Roháček’s rival village; he is Marketa’s doting father. Mikoláš spares Lazar after catching him scavenging the wreckage of the caravan the Kozlík clan intends to loot, but later regrets his mercy when Lazar refuses to provide assistance against the king. In revenge, Mikoláš kidnaps the virginal Marketa, whom the (relatively) pious Lazar has pledged to the nunnery. The relentless Captain “Beer,” the king’s military representative in the region, is easily distinguished by his bushy mustache. These are the major players; many minor characters enter and leave, but if you can keep these straight, you should be able to navigate the main thrust of the tale—though details are often elusive.

The narrative confusion matters less because the film is so beautiful. The black and white vistas show off the wintry Bohemian countryside, bare interiors where scar-faced men in furs and chainmail Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MARKETA LAZAROVÁ (1967)