by Allan Fish
(Romania 1970 217m) DVD2 (Romania only)
Aka. Michael the Brave
Prince of Wallachia
p Sergiu Nicoleascu d Sergiu Nicolaescu w Titus Popovici ph Mircea George Cornea ed Yolanda Mintolescu m Tiberiu Olah art Zoltán Szabó, Nicolae Teodoru cos Hortensia Georgescu, Mircia Milcovici
Amza Pellea (Mihai Viteazul), Ion Besoiu (Sigismund Bathory), Olga Tudorache (Mama lui Mihai Viteazul), Irina Gardescu (Contessina Rossana Viventini), György Kovács (Andrei Bathory), Sergiu Nicolaescu (Selim Pasa), Nicolae Secareanu (Sinan Pasa), Ilarion Ciobanu (Stroe Buzescu), Aurel Rogalschi (Rudolf II), Ioana Bulca (Doamna Stanca), Septimiu Sever (Radu Buzescu),
A sequence from this of all films is seen on TV in Spielberg’s E.T., a film that probably 99% of the millions who saw Spielberg’s film will never have seen or known of. Even now, the best part of two decades later, the film is barely known outside its native land and only exists on DVD courtesy of a thankfully English subtitled release there. This is a film that is historic in every sense, a film that not only is a monumental achievement as a historical, nationalist epic, but also in the history of film craft. A film that was influenced by so many that went before and which influenced in turn equally as many after.
The story is told in two parts, and details the brief reign of Wallachian prince Mihai (Michael) and his attempts to unite the Romanian lands of Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania. It begins in the early 1590s with the locals paying lip service to the ruling Ottoman Turks, and it’s to them Mihai is indebted to gain his titles, but he soon evokes a nationalist fervour and denounces the Turks and declares war on them. He defeats them at the Battle of Calugareni, but then has to face insurrection from the treacherous Bathory (of Elisabeth fame) family from the Hungarian part of Transylvania.
Mihai is a hero throughout the Carpathian lands, and coupled to the fact that he reigned only eight years prior to his death in 1601, makes him revered much as Richard the Lionheart or Henry V in England. He was a warrior, a statesman, a tactician and a supreme politician. Egotistical, perhaps, but a fervent nationalist, and he’s played with appropriate gravitas by Pellea, with the director himself giving a memorable performance as his old friend, sometime enemy Selim Pasa.
Some critics may point out that the battle sequences are more impressive than the domestic, and while that is true, they are still perfectly in keeping with the tone of the film. The battle sequences themselves evoke many to have gone before, from Alexander Nevsky and Henry V to Knights of the Teutonic Order and War and Peace. There are so many gob-smacking panoramas, vistas and tracking shots through the course of the several screen battles as to leave one open-mouthed. Its most powerful images – a blind man staggering through the desolation of a battlefield, graphic depictions of decapitation and impaling, dogs and crows picking at human and animal corpses alike in the aftermath of a battle, and numerous expansive panoramic shots of armies in chaotic conflict, often at high speed to capture the rhythms of battle – burn themselves into our retinas. More than any other director, it owes much to Kurosawa, most obviously in the opening sequence where a man in the midst of battle in a muddy swamp cries out “victory” and is immediately turned, Mifune-like, into a human porcupine, with arrows flying into his chest from all directions, but also in the sense of waste in battle. As if to repay the compliment, one can certainly see images similar to Nicoleascu’s film in Kurosawa’s later Kagemusha and Ran, while a charge through a forest surely influenced the battle with the Barbarian hordes in Gladiator. And for those able to see homages that come very much from leftfield, there’s even a shot of Mihai and his allies striding towards the camera as they ambush some Turks, and one would be forgiven for seeing Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch striding to meet Mapache. Superbly directed, strikingly photographed, passionately acted and altogether gripping, this is one of the great epics of modern cinema.