Delpy seeks virgin blood in The Countess
by Bénédicte Prot
10/02/2009 - In the Panorama section at the Berlin International Film Festival, French actress Julie Delpy presented her third directorial feature to the press, who were won over by the energy and rigour of her work.
Co-produced by France and Germany, The Countess [trailer] is based on the life of 16th-century Hungarian countess Erzébet Bathory, known as the “bloody countess” (wonderfully played by Delpy). Following the example of more experienced director Catherine Breillat and her film Blue Beard [trailer] (also in the Panorama section), from the outset Delpy emphasises the elusive nature of the story, not so much in terms of its interpretation but rather its transmission. As the narrator says at the start of the film, history itself is not made up of truths but of fables.
The director explained at the press conference that she was keen to maintain the historical accuracy of the story’s context, but avoided reading the numerous fictional works that have fed the myth of the bloody countess and hence the whole folklore of the "wicked queen". Instead, she freely created her own version of Erzébet’s story and offers viewers a work that is "more of a Greek tragedy than a horror film".
The film – shot in superb locations (with very few studio scenes) and with meticulously crafted costumes – looks at how an independent noble lady feared by everyone falls in love with a young man (Daniel Brühl). Such is her passion that when the man’s father (William Hurt) forcibly drives them apart, feeling abandoned and betrayed she blames her wrinkles and starts to sacrifice virgins in order to apply their blood (as pure as her love) to her skin.
She is assisted by her lover, the supposed witch Darvulia (Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca, whom Delpy cast without realising she was the star of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [trailer, film focus]).
Although the countess claims – after her murderous crimes have been discovered – that she would have been considered a hero were she a man and despite the specifically female romantic pain that motivates her behaviour, when asked about the film’s feminist message, Delpy rejected distinctions of race and gender to focus her reflection on the individual. According to the director, the countess’ actions are inspired less by female vanity than by a rather naive fascination with purity (in contrast with the corruption of power) and the universal fear of death and decay.
(Translated from French)