No Comments on ECSTASY

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian) Deutsch (German)

by Gustav Machatý

grade: 8

On the occasion of the pre-opening of the 76th Venice Film Festival, the feature film Ecstasy, directed by Gustav Machatý, was screened, newly restored in 4K by the Cineteca di Bologna. And although this important work is mainly remembered for the nudity of the beautiful Hedy Lamarr, which had already caused a scandal at the Venice Film Festival 1934, many will have noticed that Ecstasy also stands out for its excellent direction by Machatý.

Against conventions

Extraordinary pre-opening at the 76th Venice Film Festival. Just before the official opening of the festival – and, specifically, during the evening of the 27 August – the feature film Ecstasy, directed by Hungarian Gustav Machatý, which had already caused a scandal at the Venice Film Festival 1934, was screened in the Sala Darsena. It had just been restored in 4K by the Cineteca di Bologna. And although this important work – a co-production between Czechoslovakia and Austria – is nowadays mainly remembered for the nudity – the first real full nude in film history (except, of course, for erotic films) – of beautiful Hedy Lamarr (here still credited with the name Hedy Kiesler), many will have noticed that Ecstasy stands out above all for the excellent direction of Machatý.

The staged story is that of the young and sensual Eva (Hedy Lamarr), who, having just got married to a man considerably older than her (Zvonimir Rogoz), feels very frustrated as her husband does nothing but neglect her. She soon decides to return home to her father and abruptly asks for a divorce. During a day of relaxation, meanwhile, the young woman will meet a handsome local worker (Aribert Mog) and the two will immediately fall in love.

Ecstasy, both because of the issues it deals with – first and foremost, divorce – and because, in its way, it anticipates in both form and content much of what will be released in the years to come, still stands today not only as a very important historical document, but also as an extremely sophisticated feature film, artistically speaking.

And if we consider that only four years before almost all films in the United States were sound films and, at the same time, Europe had arrived at such a novelty long afterwards, it is not surprising that, in Ecstasy, the directorial approach adopted is precisely reminiscent of some silent films. As a result, scenes without dialogue have the upper hand in the whole mise-en-scène, with dialogue reduced almost to the bone, totalling around twenty lines in the whole film. It did not take long, in fact, to shoot and dub the film in two different languages – German and Czechoslovakian – in order to give it an international touch.

Gustav Machatý, for his part, excelled in his extremely elegant directing and attention to detail, not only with intense close-ups to emphasise the charm of the beautiful Hedy Lamarr, but also with suggestive dolly shots showing happy couples sitting on the balconies of a luxury hotel and with attention to the smallest details and objects, such as the protagonist’s necklace, glasses placed one on top of the other that are slowly filled with champagne, glasses and, last but not least, close-ups of runaway horses.

Particularly noteworthy, in this regard, is the parallel drawn between the protagonist and her horse, who used to run far away as soon as possible: both longing for freedom without having to submit to anyone’s orders, both ready to run away from everything and everyone towards a happier future.

And then, above all, there is her, Hedy Lamarr. Her full frontal nudity in Ecstasy (only visible from the waist up and for a very few seconds, for which Lamarr justified herself by stating that this was not initially planned in the screenplay) caused a worldwide scandal, leading even Hollywood to call her Ecstasy Girl. And although the diva has also distinguished herself over the years for her intelligence and her fundamental inventions in the field of communication, it has perhaps been her acting skills that have been damaged, since many directors have done nothing more than emphasise her beauty at the expense of potentially interesting acting performances.

However, Ecstasy is, in fact, the most important and significant film of her career, a film of stunning beauty and, at the same time, a precious and qualitatively elegant work. A true gem of world cinema.

Original title: Ekstase
Directed by: Gustav Machatý
Country/year: Czechoslovakia, Austria / 1933
Running time: 88’
Genre: drama, erotic
Cast: Hedy Lamarr, Aribert Mog, Zvonimir Rogoz, Leopold Kramer, Emil Jerman, Jirina Steimarova, Bedrich Vrbský, Jirina Stepnickova, Antonin Kubovy, Karel Macha-Kuca, Pierre Nay, André Nox, Eduard Slégl, Jan Svitak, Ladislav Bohac
Screenplay: Robert Horky, Frantisek Horky, Jacques A. Koerpel, Gustav Machatý
Cinematography: Hans Androschin, Gerhard Huttula, Jan Stallich
Produced by: Elektafilm

Info: the page of Ecstasy on the website of the Biennale di Venezia; the page of Ecstasy on iMDb