Review: The Ballad of Piargy
- Ivo Trajkov's melodrama with folk-horror aspects is a haunting tale that captures the tensions and moral dilemmas of a village on the brink of war
Macedonian-born, Prague-based director Ivo Trajkov's latest offering, The Ballad of Piargy [+see also:
film profile], penned by Jana Skořepová, recently notched up 12 wins at the Slovak Sun in a Net Awards (see the news). The film is based on a 1942 short story by Slovakian naturalistic writer František Švantner, who drew inspiration from myths and ballads, exploring the boundaries between life and death while using elements of irrationality and fantasy.
The story follows young protagonist Juliša (Judit Pecháček), who becomes entangled in a love triangle after marrying Martin Roháč (Daniel Fisher), the son of wealthy landowner Ján Roháč (Attila Mokos), in the village of Piargy. As her life unravels under her father-in-law's lewd gaze, the narrative reflects the hypocrisy, moral corruption and brewing anti-Semitism of a society on the brink of World War II.
The Ballad of Piargy continues a current trend in Slovak cinema – that of folk horror – examining the position of women in society, similar to Nightsiren [+see also:
interview: Tereza Nvotová
film profile], although Trajkov’s oeuvre leans less on genre conventions. Unlike Tereza Nvotová's modern rendition of witch hunts in a rural community mired in folk superstition, Trajkov's film features a period setting, portraying women's roles in rural society as caught between religious piety and repressed desires.
At its core, the film is a family melodrama, with Juliša becoming yet another victim of Ján Roháč's lust despite being his son's wife. However, Martin emerges almost as a caricature of the masculine stereotypes his father supposedly embodies. The elder Roháč’s virility, passion and dominance are frequently displayed through thinly veiled metaphors, such as him taming a wild horse or roughly exerting control over his submissive wife, Mária Roháčová (Lucia Klein Svoboda).
As Juliša begins to strangely gravitate towards her father-in-law, an impending tragedy looms over the family and the entire community. The central story within the Roháč household is framed by a retrospective narrative from the sole survivor of a catastrophe that has befallen the entire village, Juliša's friend Johanka (Jana Kvantíková). Alarmed, she alerts local priests, suspecting a calamity of biblical proportions has led to the rebirth of the Antichrist.
Peter Bencsik's crisp cinematography, employing a Univisium aspect ratio and high-contrast black-and-white imagery, captures the patriarchal microcosm where religious superstition serves as an allegory for the emerging geopolitical catastrophe, extending beyond Slovakia, which became a client state of Nazi Germany. The story ominously parallels the present day, as the cycle of history repeats itself.
The Ballad of Piargy was produced by Slovakian outfit ARINA, and co-produced by Czech company i/o post, North Macedonia’s Story Scope, and Radio and Television Slovakia. Reel Suspects is handling the international sales.
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