Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Film Atlas (Bulgaria): The Goat Horn

Country: Bulgaria
Film: The Goat Horn / Koziyat Rog (1972)
Karaivan is a shepherd in 17th century Bulgaria. He lives a humble, contented life with his wife and young daughter, Maria. One day while grazing his goats on the mountain slopes, his wife is raped and killed by four Ottomans travelling through the area. The daughter, witnessing it all, goes mute. The father, upon returning, burns his property to the ground in grief. Years go by and Karaivan raises Maria as a son, teaching her to fight and bow-hunt. Finally feeling prepared, he tracks down the Ottomans and wrecks his revenge, leaving a goat horn near the corpses as a signature. But Maria, ill-nourished by her diet of violence and hate, can't help craving peace and love. Karaivan is unwilling, or perhaps unable, to let her move on and lead a normal life.

The Goat Horn belongs to the dubious subgenre of rape-and-revenge thrillers, a tradition I'm not very fond of. So I was initially hesitant about choosing this film (Bulgaria's New Wave war romance The Peach Thief would have been far safer, and its equally good, but arguably less interesting), but something about it kept nagging at me. It owes a great deal more to Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (the oddly highbrow birthplace of the cycle) than the mindless exploitation films that have largely characterized thematically similar films since. This is a movie about uneducated peasants who lead their lives by strict, simple codes. There is almost no dialog and thus no ham-handed debates about the morality of murder or revenge. The stark black-and-white of the cinematography and the hand-built authenticity of the art design compliments this directness. The viewer comes to understand, or at least appreciate, this primitive world of seeing and doing rather than thinking and discussing. But Karaivan and Maria are still human, and even if they don't understand the philosophical implications of what they have been through, they still pay the emotional toll. It is here that The Goat Horn achieves its greatest success: performances that chart the spectrum of loss, anger, revenge and redemption without knowing the words to articulate it.

My Favorites:
The Goat Horn
The Peach Thief

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