Vol 0, No 19
1 February 1999
K I N O E Y E:|
Quietly Saying No
Petr Vaclav's Pani Le Murie
Andrew J Horton
In considering the resistance to Communism in the Czech context, we tend to focus in on those such as Jan Palach and Vaclav Havel who chose dramatic or radical courses of action. However, not all resistors used such public methods. Petr Vaclav's documentary Pani Le Murie (Madam Le Murie, 1993) depicts the last survivor of an aristocratic family who refused to bow to Communism.
The true tragedy to Le Murie's story starts before Communism. She entered a relationship with a local lad and soon realised that she was completely in love. The feeling was not reciprocated, and she soon realised that to him, she was nothing special. The experience broke her heart, and she claims that, after that, she was incapable of feeling any emotion. And it is this detachment which enables her to view the world with startling objectivity. It might also explain how she managed to survive the long years of the Communist era at the very edge of society.
When the Communists took power, the Le Murie family roughed up their mansion, as they had done at the end of the War, to make their riches seem less and to attract less attention from the Communists. They thought they would be rehoused and their family home nationalised, but amazingly, they were permitted to stay - although everything was done to try and convince them not to: the water and electricity supplies were cut off soon after the Communists took over. The other members of the family didn't weather the Communist years well: gradually they fell weary and, despite the care of Le Murie herself for them, they died.
When Le Murie, 83 at the time of the film's making, bemoans what has happened to world over the last half-century it has little to do with what Communism as a political system did to her and her family. She is more concerned about the changes she has noted in people, in nature and in the relationship between the two. Having grown up in a large house in the country, she has an intimate bond with the natural world around her. Her decaying home and the secluded grounds around it (both of which she does her best to maintain single-handedly) vividly conjure up the degree to which her life is enveloped by nature.
With a trembling passion in her voice which belies her claim to no longer feel emotion, she lists all the animals and birds which were a so common feature of her childhood but have all but disappeared. Her brother Kristian was an even bigger nature lover than she was, and she expresses her relief that he died as early in his life as he did, spared the trauma of witnessing the countryside around them change beyond belief or comprehension.
The collectivisation that Communism introduced made people see the land in a different way. It was no longer something to be venerated, something you had a relationship with, and it became something to exploited and used. Fertilisers were pumped into the soil and the landscape was changes to aid more intensive farming methods.
Inevitably, people lost their understanding of the land and nature. This is not exactly a startling revelation: increasing urbanisation has long been recognised as alienating people across the world from nature. What is surprising, though, is Le Murie's assertion that the country-dwellers are the worst offenders. Urbanites, she claims, still hold nature in some awe, whereas people in rural areas have no respect for it.
Shot in cold grey tones (by Stefan Kucerak), and with long pensive silences between Le Murie's musings on life, Pani Le Murie is stark and thought-provoking portrait of a truly astonishing personality. Her hypnotically recounted life captures a sense of pain and anguish which transcends her own personal tragedy and the political circumstances that have surrounded her life.
At a mere 35 minutes long, director Petr Vaclav, skilfully extends the film long enough to explore Le Murie's personal philosophy fully, whilst at the same time she cuts it off, leaving you wanting to know more about what, ultimately, is a very thin sketch of a long and noble life which speaks to us on a number of levels.
Andrew J Horton, 1 February 1999
This article originally appeared alongside a review of Helena Trestikova's Sladke stoleti. Click here to read it.
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