Julie Delpy directs 15th century Hungarian serial murderer 'The Countess'

By Moira Jean Sullivan

One of the parallel sections of the 44th Créteil International Women Film Festival this year (March 11-20) was a history of directors in different genres of cinema made by women. This included short film programs with directors such as Germaine Dulac, Lois Weber, Maya Deren, and Ida Lupino.

Also of interest was the horror genre and several exceptional horror films were presented including The Countess from 2009 made by French actress and director Julie Delpy, an historical film about the life of the Hungarian countess Erszebet Bathory. It is not often that a horror film is made with such rich detail as this film about a woman who was afraid of aging and who used the blood of young female virgins to keep herself forever young. She falls in love with the young son of Count György Thurzó (William Hurt) - Istvan, (Daniel Bruhl). The Count prevents him from meeting the Hungarian Comtesse who is to be married to the daughter of a wealthy Danish merchant. Erzebet becomes a fanatic about Istvan and becomes obsessed with her looks with the 21-year age difference between her and the young Istvan. In her vanity and increasingly erratic behavior she strikes one of her ladies in waiting in the head. The blood that splatters on her face makes her believe from the accident that her skin has become younger. William Hurt has a minor role in this film but his formidable presence as the daunting father who prevents his son from being together with the only woman, he's ever really loved is tragic.

The reign of terror of Erzebet takes up the bulk of the film who is presented as an uncaring woman even from childhood in which she buries a bird alive and expects it to bloom as a flower from earth. Her rampage is painstakingly told, and the art direction of the film conveys a dark madness as we watch with little consideration or sentiment how Erzebet kills so many young women who are left abandoned in the countryside. Although pledging undying love Istvan doesn't seem to really try to reunite with Erzebet and accepts his father's command. The first opportunity to reunite with Istvan presents itself after five years’ time where Erzebet looks even younger although it's unbelievable that blood could have restored her skin to such vitality. The fate of Erzebet along with the rest of the film conveys a staunch cruelty. It was not a great time to live during the Hungarian Habsburg empire but even less so as a woman who is surrounded by despicable Regents such as counts Thurzo, and King Matthias II. Their treachery if presented matter of factly to that of Erzebet. At least that is what the legend tells at a time of extreme cruelty during the Ottoman-Hungarian wars. Erzebet's insignia was three dragon teeth, not unlike the Romanian Count Dracul inducted into the Order of the Dragon and a warrior against Ottoman invaders. Julie Delpy has made a compelling well-crafted film.

© 2022 - Moira Jean Sullivan - Air Date: 03/23/22
Movie Magazine International