31 July 2006 | misha-76
Don't let the Marxist dogma keep you from viewing this film
As a showpiece of Czech Nationalism and Communist propaganda, "Jan Zizka" and the two other parts of the Hussite Trilogy, "Jan Hus" and "Proti Vsem" are easy to dismiss. The rights-holders have yet to release a subtitled version, but the Czech-language edition is available in DVD format in the Czech Republic. The Hussite Trilogy was a big-budget (for Czechoslovakia) historical drama which focused on the life and death of the priest/reformer Jan Hus and the movement known as the Hussite Revolution (ca. 1419-1437). Actor Zdenek Stepanek played both the intellectual preacher Jan Hus and the ingenious general Jan Zizka. Both of these historical characters inhabit a special place in the identity of the Czech Lands. Hus is revered for his dogged adherence to his convictions, but Zizka's legacy is somewhat more problematic because of the violent nature of the uprising he led. While the non-Czech speaker will be confused about the plot, the magic of these films is in the acting of Stepanek and in the production design. These films lavishly portray the early fifteenth century in details taken directly from artwork and chronicles of the time. Those viewers familiar with modern Prague will find their favorite landmarks only partly finished--the towers of the Tyn Church are still under construction, the Charles Bridge only has one statue, and the Old City hall lacks the Horlogue. These kind of details speak to the meticulous research that went into these films. The costumes are reminiscent of the best designs from American period films produced in the 1930's and 40's, but display a greater variety of looks. The viewer would be hard pressed to find a plain white or stone interior wall anywhere in the films. The painting on the interiors was taken from the backgrounds of illuminated manuscripts and every wall is a riot of color, geometric patterns, and even inflammatory depictions of the Pope. Medievalists and enthusiasts will value these films for the battle scenes. Jan Zizka and his Hussite followers were the first warriors to consistently defeat knights in armor with guns and farm implements. The film "Jan Zizka" very carefully portrays the strategies that made this happen. This complex piece of history, rarely discussed outside of the Czech Republic, shows the wane of the mounted knights and the rise of gunpowder as a practical weapon. The film does suffer from enforced Marxist dogma, much like Sergei Eisenstein's epic "Alexander Nevsky." Yet the story is much more complex than "Nevsky," and takes far fewer liberties with acknowledged historical facts. Additionally, "Jan Zizka" embraces fifteenth century aesthetics, and the film's art direction successfully re-creates the designs left behind by Zizka's contemporaries. This aspect alone makes the Hussite Trilogy fascinating viewing. If and when a subtitled version is ever released, these films deserve to be placed among the best Medieval-themed films.