Karel Zeman was a Czech film maker and master animator. He’s most famous for directing pictures which mixed live-action fantasy with beautiful animation. I was lucky enough to visit a museum dedicated to his work in Prague this year. He made such magical and delightful films full of humour and great entertainment. Zeman has influenced many directors, most notably Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton and Jan Švankmajer.
Set during the Thirty Year War, A Jester’s Tale follows the fortunes of a peasant called Petr (Petr Kostka who is railroaded into joining the army. During his first battle the bungling Petr falls to the ground. An older soldier aids him, and as the pair lay down the rest of the army is wiped out. Shedding their uniforms the duo escape, but whilst the older soldier is intent on the spoils of war, Petr seeks a more simple life. He chances upon Lenka (Emília Vásáryová) and there’s an instant attraction. When they are set-upon by soldiers, they disguise themselves as a high ranking soldier, a squire and a jester. Taken in to the enemy’s castle, their fortunes change as often as the wind.
Zeman described A Jester’s Tale as a pseudo-historical film. It’s definitely his most biting anti-war satire. A black comedy, it has more live-action than you normally see in his work. Through clever use of illustrations and background design, the director shows the folly of war. Through a comic plot he demonstrates how little control Petr has over his fate. A Jester’s Tale looks wonderful and is an amusing fantasy play on a very serious subject.
A Jester’s Tale is released on DVD by Second Run on September 15.