Co-founder of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, whilst Otakar Vávra was a highly prolific film-maker over a number of decades, he’s not well-known outside of his native Czech Republic. One of the reasons for this was possibly because he was considered a sell-out by many of his peers due to his willingness to work with the Communist regime. Witchhamer is a strange film for him. One which was banned by the (then) Czechoslovak government.
Set in 17th century Moravia, when an altar boy notices an old woman hiding a communion wafer, she is denounced as being a witch. The matter is taken to the local landowner who decides to call for an inquisition. The greedy and ruthless Boblig von Edelstadt (Vladimír Šmeral) is appointed inquisitor and sets about purging the village of heretics. Along with the poor, he targets nobles and merchants in order to seize their possessions. The only person to stand against him is a priest, Kryštof Lautner (Elo Romančík)
Based on a novel of the same name and drawing from original court manuscripts and forced confessions, Witchhammer expertly portrays the paranoia, hysteria and hypocrisy of the time. Co-written by Ester Krumbachová (Daisies, A Report on the Party and the Guests), the film is a lightly-veiled allegory of the show trials in the 1950s under communism. Witchhammer is a brutal, powerful and chilling treatise on the misuse of power.
Witchhammer is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Second Run on 30 October.