Fragonard …Ondrej Pavelka
Elzevira … Klara Jirsakova
Pedro de Rudibanera … Raoul Schranil
Kurt … Jakub Saic
Ignac … Vladimir Marek
Kubova … Veronika Freimanova
Father Bruna … Jirina Jelenska
Kuba … Rudolf Hrusinsky
Hanicka … Barbora Leichnerova
Cinematographer-turned-director Jaroslav Brabec cleverly melds early movie techniques with postmodern tongue-in-cheek flair in a fresh, original homage to black-and-white movies. It’s a picaresque effort worthy of Steve Martin, with innocent sexpot heroines and a jumble of incongruous stories that, incidentally, journeys technically through the birth of talkies. That’s a start at describing the fun and inventiveness in “Horror Story.” University and yuppie colonies should love it.
The movie might better be titled “Bloody Novel.” The source, Josef Vachal’s 1924 tome, is a surrealistic kaleidoscope of bizarre plot developments. The glue of the film is the character of the author (Ondrej Pavelka), who introduces and comments on his novels and life. “The events of everyday life are much more terrible than any bloody novel,” he intones. “No suffering goes unrewarded; no crime goes unpunished.”
Brabec uses black-and-white film and pacing techniques to recreate the quality of early silent films. Broad action styles and obviously painted scenery contribute to the affectionate parody. Giant ants with fake butterfly wings swing across the foreground. A naive farm girl twirls her skirts in happiness as the camera cuts to a sassy close-up of her bare bottom. Fingers chopped off a hand in melodramatic fury clatter to the floor, obvious plaster fakes.
As the story hops from scene to scene, stretching credulity to the breaking point, Brabec enhances the monochrome with a rainbow of tones. Forest scenes have a greenish cast, an Amsterdam pirates’ pub bears a purple hue, and Hawaiian island natives are bathed in orange. Even the writer’s narrative scenes seem to be enhanced with gray.
Editing techniques range from circular fade-outs to jump cuts, and sound is used to hilarious effect. Advancing from purely silent movie, pic adds grossly inappropriate noises and then dialogue, a la the first talkies, while continuing to supply subtitles.
The wildly undulating story links characters in improbable ways, managing by the end to entwine the loose threads in a complicated but acceptable manner.
Near the film’s end, the author declares, “In every trash novel, blood isn’t very real.” When he closes his finished novel, the only solid color in the film appears in the red blood that oozes from the book’s pages. Pic is a film teacher’s — and student’s — delight.