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Anazapta (2001)

I will destroy everything - The servant who obeys you, the Physician who heals you, the Priest who gives you absolution.

Directed by:

Alberto Sciamma

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 110 minutes

UK Certificate: tbc

Country: United Kingdom

In 1348, in a small English parish, the crops have been ruined by blight, and the local lord Sir Walter Mellerby (Jon Finch) is off at war in France, leaving his young wife Matilda (Lena Headey) to fend off the local Bishop (Ian McNeice), a potbellied debauchee with rapacious designs on both the parish lands and Matilda herself. To make things worse, soldiers return from the war with news that Walter has been taken prisoner, but they also have a valuable hostage of their own – a man in an iron mask with an inverted cross branded into his chest (David La Haye), said to be Jacques de Saint Amant, the son of a French count. Matilda treats the handsome young man, on whom the salvation of the whole village seems to depend, with kindness, but as parishioners start to die in mysterious circumstances, and fear and superstition take grip, questions are asked about the true identity of Jacques, and his connection to Walter's long dead first wife Joan. As an escaped Walter makes the long journey home on foot, swearing and cursing all the way, the community's guilty past also returns to haunt it, culminating in an Oedipal apocalypse where all sins are reckoned and repaid.

While not as outrageous as his first feature 'Killer Tongue', and far less reliant on prosthetic special effects, Alberto Sciamma's mediæval murder mystery 'Anazapta' has its fair share of sensationalist shlock. There is a bishop who wants to be humoured 'in forty-seven different ways', with his collection of as many drawings to illustrate graphically just what he has in mind. There is a servant (Anthony O'Donnell) whose nether regions are said to compensate for his missing nose. There is a soldier (Nick Holder) with a hideous swelling boil to which he has given the name 'Sir Percival'. There are even high-camp lines like 'the French bastard did it, only he's not the bastard we all think he is, he's another bastard', and staggeringly numerous uses of the word 'fuck'.

Yet at the bloody, mud-spattered heart of 'Anazapta' lurks a baroque parable of sin and and retribution, with all the dirt and filth barely concealing the community's much deeper stain of moral contagion and corruption. By the time the film ends, the identity of the stranger has become a devilish riddle, but it is far less important who he is than what he represents: the collective guilt of the god-fearing villagers, the absolution that they so desperately crave, and the punishment which is due to them.

The resulting film is a hybrid as mercurial as its main character – falling somewhere between 'The Return of Martin Guerre', 'The Name of the Rose' and 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', but not quite as good as any of those. Still, it is an enjoyable enough romp in the mediæval muck, and its paradigm-shifting conclusion may well haunt you like the plague.

It's Got: A secret from the past, adultery, blackmail, murder, mutilation, pestilence, gang rape, curses, a trial by water, a black mass, and dark and stormy sets that seem to herald the apocalypse itself.

It Needs: Subtlety - but then it wouldnt be half as fun.

Alternatives:

Cabin Fever, Dogville, High Plains Drifter, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Name of the Rose, The Navigator, The Return of Martin Guerre

Summary

An enjoyable enough romp in the mediæval muck, with a head-scratching conclusion.

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