Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Panna a Netvor" A Retrospective Review

Discovering foreign films can be a weird situation. Much of the time I stumble upon foreign works, mostly out of sheer luck of the draw from watching something on TV or hearing about it in a fancy blog article. But once in awhile you find a true gem that sticks with you, even if it isn’t exactly the most glittery of the bunch.

I can easily say that I am obsessed with any version of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, and as such I have seen almost every adaptation that I can get my hands on. I read webcomics, young adult novels, even watch awful anime adaptations that were made for Direct to Video releases in the 90’s. I’m just addicted to the story of a young girl being forced into a gothic castle and to understand the complicated layers of a monster humanoid creature. Even if some adaptations are terrible, I’ll watch every second of them, just so I can investigate the differences.

Upon such research, I had discovered a foreign version that I had never seen before, but by it’s title translation I became incredibly perplexed. Panna a Netvor (translated: The Virgin and the Monster) is a Czech retelling of the classic fairy tale, and could possibly be the creepiest and most gothic version ever made (move over, Jean Cocteau!). But by it’s translation, many might think of it to be a porno or a horror film, but it’s drastically neither of those things.

Panna a Netvor tells the story of Julie (Beauty/Belle of this story), and follows the usual beats that are associated with the fairy tale. There is a poor family, the father picks a rose, a monster threatens him, and the youngest daughter takes her father’s place. But what sets Panna apart from it’s other more famous counterparts is it’s second and third act. Where traditionally the only two characters would be The Beast type and the Beauty type, the film offers a villain in the strangest of ways.

Our Beast for the film, a griffon/eagle man with claws for hands, is not the scariest monster in the film by far. That title would instead be given to a group of small demonic like creatures (think dirty homeless Oompa Loompas with gargoyle wings) that actually control and manipulate Netvor (Beast) into being evil. In many sections of the film, the creatures will speak to him through whispers and disgusting bubble sound effects, giving the audience a feeling of hell “boiling over” in the realm of Netvor’s mind.

But eventually, as in every version, our two leads begin to grow and trust each other. But unlike the Disney version, Panna takes this into a more complicated turn. One that heightens the sextual tension to degrees that no other has done before, and gives new layers of discovery and questions to both characters.

Instead of immediately showing his true form, Netvor requests that Julie never look at him and instead only hear his voice. What starts off as an innocent game eventually turns into the proclamation of their love for eachother, until Julie discovers what Netvor really is. 

Julie now becomes angered and feels betrayed by the one person she could call her true friend and eventual lover. The emotions that follow in the sequences past this initial discovery make me tear up every time, especially when you look at it from the perspective of Netvor, who is trying so hard to make Julie see who he is without being afraid. These key changes make this version truly memorable.

But even a version with such outstanding perfection can have it’s missteps here and there. Panna tends to constantly reuse the same two music themes throughout, almost to the point of it being a parody. Whenever Netvor is going to come out, the scary music plays. Whenever Julie is shown, the piano plays, and back and forth it goes. If this was the only film that aliens from outerspace saw of our culture, I’m sure they would be convinced that these are the only two pieces of music we listen to.

Panna is also in need of some trimming in the beginning, giving the most confusing and long introduction scene that by comparison makes Christopher Nolan’s films seem as fast as Speedy Gonzales. Villagers being chased around by other villagers just seems a waste of time, until we get Netvor’s introduction (which is gruesome and twisted, just how I like it!)

At it’s core
Panna a Netvor is truly one of the stand alone adaptations of the famous fairy tale. Instead of relying on what has been done before with the story, it adds new and exciting psychological and horror elements, making it the first adaptation since Cocteau’s that knows what it wants to do visually and stands proud to be it’s own unique take.

With all these new film versions of Beauty and the Beast coming out, it’s hard to see which will do it right or will get it completely wrong. But if any of them are a shred as amazing as this Czech made flick, than I can breath easily at night and dream of the perfection.


Anonymous said...

I also love this horror fairy tale. Just a technical note: translation of "panna" in this context actually isn't "virgin", it's an archaic term for a "maiden" ;-) It translates as virgin only in the modern Czech...



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