01 March 2014
There’s nothing like a good ol’ fashioned jealousy-and-revenge story and there’s nothing like a good ol’ fashioned poisoning to provide some late night entertainment. That is all provided in Morgiana, a 1972 gothic/horror film by then Czechoslovak director Juraj Herz. I understand this this film is from the later “Czech New Wave” period and falls in line with similar films like Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders by another Czech director, Jamoril Jireš, or even Herz’s other films (which I have yet to see) like Petrolejové lampy (Oil Lamps) or Spalova? mrtvol (The Cremator).
The plot of Morgiana is pretty straight forward, the father of two twin-sisters dies and leaves most of his estate to the more “sunnier” sister, Klara. The darker sister Viktoria, who for the majority of the film fashions herself as a highly stylized old-fashioned goth, is jealous of this fact and through a few influencial occurrences early on in the film decides to attain a highly untraceable poison to get her own sister out of the way of that inheritance.
The opening tones of the film are quite ominous, as we see the pallbearers drop their father’s casket into the ground while discordant pipe music thunders on in the film’s soundtrack. We then cut to the reading of the estate to the family friend. The two sisters sit silently as the details are read out, obscured under large, theatrical hats. Following that the films introductory credits roll over strange, organic paintings while a primal orchestration plays in the background.
Throughout the film Viktoria and Klara are then the main focus, with secondary roles by the fortune teller and some of the two sister’s sets of female servants. The male characters in this film seem to be generic and non-recognisable, sort of military-dressed accessories that try and vie for the sisters attentions which, especially for Viktoria, are clearly elsewhere.
The tone is set for this film, which merges a highly dramatic Art Nouveau style a la Aubrey Beardsley with the post-60s psychedelia of the time that the film was made. There is a lot of interesting camera work and textures, including viewpoints from Viktoria’s cat, called Morgiana and is the namesake of the film. As Klara endures her poisoning her vision starts to distort, taking in saturated colours, hallucinations and warped visuals that wouldn’t be to far from Saucerful of Secrets-era Pink Floyd with videos they never got around to creating.
And of course, the interior design, costuming and make-up is pretty rich. High drama in the classic sense.
This film is quite hard to find on video, like a number of Czech-films from that era but it makes for a good, rainy night in for a classic gothic revenge tale if one can get their hands upon it.
Clips from “Morgiana”