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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Film review: The Countess (Die Gräfin)


Julie Delpy, Germany/France

Countess Erzebet Bathory’s (Julie Delpy) husband dies and she inherits servants, land, castles, money, and power. The men around her are unaccustomed to a head-strong woman who makes her own decisions and they plot her downfall. She falls in love with the much younger Istvan (Daniel Brühl), whose father Count Thurzo (William Hurt) is very much against the relationship. Erzebet sees her young lover slip away and blames herself. In order to preserve her own youth and beauty, she decides to rub her skin with the blood of young virgin girls. People in the countryside notice the disappearance of supposedly 150 young girls and find bodies. In the end Countess Bathory is condemned to be locked up in a castle until her death.

In reality Erzebet married a Hungarian count at a young age and had five children; the rest of supposedly true. In 1610 she was declared guilty and died in total isolation four years later. Even as late as 1980, her ancestors doubted the veracity of the legend because her servants’ confessions were forced through torture; three servants were burned at the stake. It could very well have been a plot of powerful men who wished to get rid of her, a strong woman.

The medieval setting and the costumes are well-made and believable. Whether one should both direct and star in one’s own film is debatable. Julie Delpy, well-known actress since the 1980s, e.g., Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, directed her first film in 2005: 2 Days Paris. She shows young Erzebet to be a total brat, possibly a hint to her damnable future, possibly as an example of childhood in the 17th century. The story rolls along from rides in a horse-drawn coach to parties to blood-letting in the dungeon of the castle. Writing letters is a whole category in itself: writing, thinking, dispatching, worrying about delivery, receiving, and reading. Today’s cell phones can never replace the drama of letter-writing in the last centuries. Delpy portrays the adult Erzebet as fearful and emancipated, as well as self-assured and doubtful, but she never really comes alive. I am happy to see German actor Daniel Brühl’s career take off to an international level, although he always just seems to play himself, which is perfectly adequate for this role.

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