The Countess is about the umpteenth film made about the infamous Hungarian
countess Elizabeth Bathory, who was almost a precise contemporary of William
Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes. (Bathory 1560-1614; Shakespeare 1564-1616;
Cervantes 1547-1616). According to legend, the countess became convinced that
she could maintain her youth by bathing in the blood of virgins. That belief
was engendered by charges which her contemporary nobles levied against her. Her
mythic status has grown through the centuries until she has become the female
equivalent of Dracula in modern pop culture.
Some modern historians argue that the charges against her were fabricated for a variety of
reasons, focusing on the fact that the countess was more powerful than the
Hungarian king. The king himself was deeply in debt to her, and she was the
most powerful Protestant in a Catholic country during the era of internecine
strife between Christians. Given those facts, many powerful people in Hungary,
including the ruler, would have had much to gain by getting her out of the
way. Not all historians subscribe to this view. The other scholars acknowledge
that opportunistic men used Bathory's crimes as their pretext to seize her
assets, but also insist that the charges, while exaggerated and based on some
fabricated evidence and confessions coerced by torture, were nonetheless
Most of the films made about the countess in the past have been sensationalist efforts
which have focused entirely on portraying her alleged sexual and violent
misdeeds in graphic detail. In the past year, however, two mainstream films
have added new spins to the Bathory oeuvre.
- The first such film was 2008's Bathory, which starred Anna Friel as
Countess Bathory. The
premise of that movie was that the charges against the countess were
entirely fabricated by her enemies, furthered by misunderstanding, and perpetuated by
the ignorance of the times. The screenwriter imagined an alternate scenario
to explain the politics and circumstances which might have precipitated those charges.
- The premise of this film, which stars Julie Delpy as Bathory, is that
the charges against her were fundamentally accurate, irrespective of the
political machinations involved in the Hungarian justice system. The scriptwriter in this case (Julie Delpy
again), having made the assumption that Bathory was a mass murderer, therefore focused on the circumstances which might have turned
an educated noblewoman into such a monster.
Delpy was not only the author and star of this film, but she also produced, directed
and wrote the musical score. She can perform every function in filmmaking.
Unfortunately, she's not good at any of them. Her performance is
especially awful, uniformly stilted and
artificial. I know that her English is normally quite good, but in this film
she sounds like she is pronouncing syllables phonetically without
understanding what they mean. I suppose that was caused by an ill-advised
attempt at a Hungarian accent, although it sounds more like an attempt to
imitate Forrest Gump. And she's one of the better performers in the
film, indicating that her casting sense was as faulty as her ear for dialects.
Her script is weighted down with voice-over narration, sometimes clumsily
delivered by a non-omniscient character who nonetheless relates details he
could not have known about. More
important, the script fails to establish any point or to accomplish anything
worthwhile. When the film ended, my first thought was, "Apart from
demonstrating her versatility, why did she want to
make that film in the first place?"
To be fair, there is some kind of pseudo-feminist
subtext in the story, but it's truly outré. Her rationale basically consists
of "If I had been a man I could have killed as many people as I pleased, with
impunity. Furthermore, as a man I wouldn't have had to worry about not being
young and pretty, so I wouldn't have needed that virgin blood to begin with." In other words,
her merciless exsanguinations of young girls represented nothing worse than
what every male aristocrat did back in the day - and those men were declared
heroes while she was labeled a monster.
Man, life sucks for chicks. You just kill a few hundred children and everybody
turns all moral on you.
And to think that I used to think that kind of
behavior was unacceptable for women as well as for men.