Monday, October 23, 2017

212. Czech directors Jan Kadar’s and Elmar Klos’ film “Touha zvaná Anada” (Adrift) (1971) (former Czechoslovakia): Third film of an important European film trilogy (based on a Hungarian novel by Lajos Zilahy), rarely discussed or appreciated

My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes.
--Psalms 38:10 (Epigraph/quote that opens the film, before the titles)

Adrift is the third film of a rarely discussed but important trilogy of director Jan Kadar (1918-79) that includes the Oscar-winning The Shop on the Main Street (1966) and The Angel Levine (1970). Elmar Klos was the co-director of two films of the trilogy: The Shop on the Main Street and Adrift.  Hence, the trilogy can conveniently be considered as the Jan Kadar spiritual trilogy on human beings’ tendency to lose things dear to them due to their own follies. In all the three films, the male central character is the pivot of the story and a major female figure dies as a result of the male character’s actions. As Kadar was a Jew, the references within the trilogy relate to the Old Testament of the Bible. (In contrast, the wife of the central character is an ardent Roman Catholic, with paintings of Mother Mary over her bed—a contribution of the novelist Lajos Zilahy.)

The mysterious Anada (Paula Pritchett) in the Danube

Unlike the spiritual doubt trilogy of the Swedish maestro Ingmar Bergman (The Silence; Through a Glass Darkly; Winter Light) and the spiritual/metaphysical Yusuf trilogy of the Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu (Honey; Milk; Egg) which are built on the original scripts of the respective directors, Kadar’s trilogy is made up of three adaptations of three novels by three different novelists, chosen either consciously or unconsciously by Kadar, to form the beads of a single necklace. The novelists are Ladislaw Grosman (The Shop on the Main Street), Bernard Malamud (The Angel Levine), and Lajos Zilahy (Adrift). Interestingly, Kadar’s Adrift is the third film adaptation of the same Zilahy novel.  A Hungarian film Something in the Water was made in 1944 and a Mexican film Something Floats in the Water was made in 1947, based on the same Hungarian novel. The novel ends with a miracle and a happy ending—Kadar’s film does not.

The fisherman -- the good and the bad in us

The tale of Adrift (and the novel from which the screenplay was adapted) is simple. A rural family of a poor fisherman (Rade Markovic) on the banks of the Danube River consists of a religious wife Zuzka (Milena Dravic), their teenage son and the fisherman’s father-in-law.  A beautiful woman (Paula Pritchett) with no family or known history and a strange name Anada is found floating in the river, presumably dead. The wife notices a spot of life in the body and massages her back to life. The film is all about the consequent impact of her presence in the family household at the insistence of the wife.

Anada (Paula Pritchett): Is she real ,or a mermaid ,
or a mere figment of imagination 

More than the plot, it is the filmmaking that grabs the attention of an intelligent viewer as in all Kadar films more than the subject. The beginning and the end of the film are considerably similar, with parallel events. It could easily confuse an inattentive viewer. The consequence of the actions of the fisherman is never shown, only inferred by visuals that need to be connected by spoken lines earlier in the film.

Kadar’s Adrift uses methods similar to those used in Andrei Konchalovsky’s Paradise (2016) where the principal characters are answering questions on their motives and actions. In Paradise you do not see the questioner; in Adrift you see three male questioners who never reveal much about themselves except their names (Melchior, Balthazar and Kaspar) while reassuring the fisherman that they are not the police. In both films, the timing of the questioning would seem illogical until the end of the film when the seemingly illogical chronology falls into place.  The three names will give away their true identities, if the viewer is well read. These names are attributed to the three wise men that came to see baby Jesus in Bethlehem. These names do not appear in the New Testament of the Bible but emerged from a Greek manuscript written in the 6th Century AD. The Catholic Church canonised these men into Saints Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar. It is not surprising that the strange trio in the film talks of attending christenings, weddings or wakes and finding a birth or a death.  Their boat has a flag flying on it—it is a simple black one.

Melchior, Balthazar and Caspar "interrogate" the adrift fisherman

Some parts of the “interrogation” are revealing. When the three men meet the fisherman for the first time, when he is waking up on the banks of the Danube after having been “adrift,” they ask him if he remembers anything, to which he replies “I remember nothing.”  One of the three men responds: “When things go wrong you remember nothing.”  Later one of the mysterious three asks the fisherman about Anada: “Did you interrogate her?” The fisherman’s angry retort is “Who are you to interrogate me?” More revealing than the religion in Adrift, are the words and actions of the fisherman that reveal turmoil and contradictions within the fisherman’s simple mind, which is indeed “adrift.”  The trio reassures the fisherman “We only know what you know.

When asked by the trio why he let Anada stay with his family, the fisherman’s honest reply is “My wife wanted it ...” only to add on the words “I love my wife.” He goes on “... My wife’s stupidity.” The trio quickly corrects him “You mean kindness.”

The wife Zuzka (Milena Dravic) embodiment of kindness reminisces
as her husband prepares her medicine 

Truth and duplicity intermingle in Adrift.  (Kadar seems to love this strange mix—exemplified in his lovely adult “children’s film” Lies My Father Told Me, a 1975 film he made in Canada.) Early in the film Adrift, the wife Zuzka reveals that she remembers that her husband had revealed his love for her by stating that he would drown himself if she died following childbirth. Fortunately, she and her son had survived the childbirth. More than a decade later, when she falls seriously ill, as a devout Catholic, she pledges all the money the poor family has to God if she is cured for the sake of her husband and son. This why the words “stupidity” and “kindness” during the interrogation sequence takes on an added significance.

The women Zuzka (right) and Anada (left)
understand each other, which upsets the fisherman even further

Kadar’s films have a style that remains with you—the sudden use of music during certain types of activity, which stops as suddenly as it begins. His camera tells you the end of the tale as though it was a silent interloper. If you miss the important shots, the end of the film would indeed befuddle the viewer.

After the end of the film the viewer could reflect on the epigraph at the beginning of the film, though most casual viewers might not see the importance of that exercise.  Both Kadar and Konchalovsky are erudite directors who believe epigraphs and end quotes add more value for the serious and well-read viewer.

Kadar’s films are gems for viewers who pay attention to details. He is definitely one of the best Czech/Slovak filmmakers in film history. The three films in the trilogy are important for students of cinema, even though rarely discussed in recent times.

P.S. The film Adrift won the Best Actress award at the Taormina Film Festival for Milena Dravic who plays Zuzka, the wife. Kadar’s The Shop on the Main Street won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language film and an unsuccessful nomination for the Best Actress Oscar. Andrei Konchalovsky's Paradise (2016) has been reviewed on this blog earlier.

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