RJ Bayley Reviews: The Countess

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Like, Dans Ma Peau, The Countess was written by, directed by, and stars its own female creator. And judging by the quality of the film, Julie Delpy is not overstretching herself.

Unlike Dans Ma Peau however, which relies on extremity, Delpy relies primarily on the good old fashioned device of a brilliantly crafted story. Horror fans will be familiar with the tales of the real life Elizabeth Bathory, the 15th century countess whose regarded as the most prolific female serial killer in history, and of the debate over true and false elements of her life. Delpy has chosen a realistic route, shying away from the more vampiric aspects of her lore and not revelling in murderous gore and images of Bathory fully bathing in blood.

In doing so she’s able to craft a genuinely intriguing tale that tears apart the bizarre double standards of sex, gender and class that typified mid-European nobility. Of particular note is Bathory’s opinion of herself. During an opening dinner scene we hear how she believes the sexes to be equal but different; yet, as the story progresses and she is increasingly emotionally injured by the man she believes she eternally loves, she views this as a weakness in herself. This then expands into feelings against her womanhood and how her gender is, unlike men, not made in her god’s image. Its a fantastically relevant and strong damnation of Christianity.

All this intellect does leave the film slightly fangless and it could have used a little visceral bite towards the end to emphasise her atrocities, but the intelligence is a powerful one. The atmosphere is wonderfully detached and never seeks to romanticise its lead, which, along with Delpy’s acting, makes a great character study of a woman crushed by the forces within and without her.

★★★★

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