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Czechoslovakia / Austria (MIFF 1995, Buried Treasures - Gustav Machaty)

Director: Gustav Machaty

A landmark in the history of the erotic film genre, Ecstasy has been known more for the scandal it provoked rather than as a fascinating and definitive work of Czech modernism.

Originally titled Symphonic der Uebe (supposedly renamed by the producer when at the initial screenings in Prague audience and critics alike screamed 'Ecstacy'!). this uncensored version with nude scences of Hedwig Kiesler-later to become Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr—ignited a censorship battle that swept the globe. The Vati­can denounced it; Mussolini refused to relinquish his personal copy when Kiesler's husband tried to buy up every print; it was banned in Hitler's Ger­many, and heavily edited for its opening in New York-shown with a title card reading, "We were secretly married today" just before the infamous lovemaking. Nevertheless prudish American view­ers were still inflamed by the 'palette of sexual emotions' expressed by the face of the actress.

For all the furore that surrounded it, this exploration of the inner world of a young woman who engages in a passionate affair to escape her sexually stifled marriage to a repressed older man has greater interest. A cele­bration of sexuality, Ecstasy combines sublime shots of cloud-torn skies, battered trees and glimmering water with sustained close-ups, evok­ing longing and bliss, linking the woman's desires to the non-moralistic forces of nature.

Unfolding with almost no dialogue, Machaty creates layers of meaning and emotion with his innovative use of off-screen sound, and his sense of timing-long, pensive shots of the land­scape, including a famed and technically adven­turous tracking shot through a forest-is enhanced by cinematographer ]an Stallich's ele­giac cinematic expression which defined the visual style of the school of Czech Lyricism.

Curio or classic, Ecstasy is an experience not to be missed.

See also...


... ... A seldom seen silent gem, Erotikon is an earli­er work in the same lyrical quartet on love and eros as Gustav Machaty's more widely known Ecstasy. Though very different, its ... More »

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