DVD REVIEW: A JESTER’S TALE / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: KAREL ZEMAN / SCREENPLAY: PAVEL JURÁCEK, RADOVAN KRÁTKY, FRANTISEK SMOLÍK, KAREL ZEMAN / STARRING: MIROSLAV HOLUB, EDUARD KOHOUT, PETR KOSTKA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Once in a while there is a home entertainment release that pulls out of the cinematic shadows a classic entry in the story of film that is ripe for re-discovery or for the most part, one would suspect, discovery. Karel Zeman’s A Jester's Tale is one such film, a Czech gem that celebrates its fiftieth birthday this year.
A Jester’s Tale is a film most fittingly experienced with a mind as a blank canvas – void of expectations or the slightest glimmer of familiarity. It is a magical film with an abundance of charm and features a near perfect ending that if it doesn’t draw a smile and sense of satisfaction, signals a need to re-discover your inner child.
Set against the backdrop of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, A Jester’s Tale draws on the mistaken identity yarn to offer a humorous and entertaining fantasy adventure, love story and comedy, which fifty years on feels distinct and impervious to time.
Zeman’s eighth feature film possesses a charm that cannot be exclusively credited to its characters. A proportion of the credit must be attributed to its visual aesthetic, and while here in the UK we were lost in the misery of the Kitchen Sink dramas, Zeman was offering Czech audiences a dreamy, surreal, fairytaleesque and interactive world that in the truest sense of the word was escapist. Through the simplest of plots Zeman discovers a complexity through the propensity for magic beholden to the moving image.
Zeman’s visual poetry here calls to mind Jean-Luc Godard or Raoul Coutard’s quote (who it should be accredited to still a source of uncertainty), “Film is truth at 24 frames a second, and every cut is a lie.” Although set against the backdrop of The Thirty Years’ War, Zeman’s world offers a more fanciful take on history. It is a world where the lie is not only to be found in the cut, but is unapologetically a world that rolls to its own beat and to its own truth that cares only for the dream of reality.
If film is escapist, if films are dreams then Zeman crafts a timeless treat that shows perfection in cinemas past that neither the cinema present or future can attain through its pursuit of CGI illusionary perfection.
By merging live action and animation Zeman creates a fertile world that doesn't lose itself in perfecting the cinematic illusion. Rather he emphasises as the theatrical and literary traditions have done the participation of the audience to imagine and readjust their perspectives of narrative reality to experience artistic imagination and discover the wonder in what is contrived without an emphasis on an image of truth.