One of the great joys of DVD is that we are finally able to watch wonderful-but-little-known foreign language movies which, without this medium, would probably have disappeared completely out of sight.
Dragon’s Return is one of those films.
Written and directed by Eduard Grecner, Dragon’s Return tells the deceptively simple story of a potter nicknamed Dragon (Radovan Lukavsky) who returns to the village that exiled him only to be met by fear and hostility and discovers that Eva (Emilia Vasaryova), the woman he loves who he has harboured the hope of returning to, is now married to his arch rival Simon (Gustav Valach).
When a fire breaks out in the neighbouring forest, Dragon seizes the opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of Eva and the villagers by volunteering to rescue the town’s cattle before they are destroyed by the blaze.
The villagers agree, but they are suspicious of Dragon’s motives. Also, if Dragon fails in his quest the penalty will be harsh – the villagers will burn Dragon’s cottage to the ground. But worse than that, Simon will accompany Dragon on the mission, and Simon is privately determined that Dragon will never return to the village again.
We cannot praise this film highly enough. It is the jewel in the crown of Czech/Slovak cinema, a beautifully photographed and richly textured ‘free-verse’ fairytale which, although the story is contemporary at its heart, appears to be set in its own indefinable universe, a medieval otherworld within which all of the characters strain beneath the harness of peasant superstition and belief in witchcraft.
Although it seems wrong to compare Dragon’s Return to another director’s work, the pacing and gorgeous monochrome imagery are strongly reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Both films also share the same sense of quasi-mystical darkness, the unsettling knowledge that although we can pretend we have control over our destiny, at any moment the fates may step in and tear apart everything. But, for this viewer, what makes Dragon’s Return even greater than Bergman’s famous opus are the base and visceral emotions churning at the centre of the story, the primitive questions about love, desire and revenge that, despite the olde worlde setting, make this 1968 production feel incredibly relevant and modern. At times, Dragon’s Return is like watching a dream that we know is sending us an important message about the way we live our own lives.
Second Run’s DVD is an excellent presentation and includes a video introduction to the film which, for those who haven’t seen the film already, should probably be watched after the main feature. The cinematography looks fantastic and Ilja Zeljenka’s eerie choral soundtrack sends chills down the spine. There is also a booklet crammed with fascinating information and anecdotes about the film’s production and its tortuous development from a novella to the big screen.
Do not miss Dragon’s Return. It is, in every sense of the word, a masterpiece.
DRAGON’S RETURN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: EDUARD GRECNER / STARRING: RADOVAN LUKAVSKY, GUSTAV VALACH, EMILIA VASARYOVA, VILIAM POLONYI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW