I have been attending a seminar about receptions and adaptions of Wolfram’s of Eschenbach ‘Parzival’. Among other interesting adaptions (music, young adult novels, modern drama like Tankred Dorst and Christoph Hein etc.) we looked into film. I researched Rohmer’s ‘Perceval le Gallois‘.

The movie was incredibly hard to come by, and apparently it is only available in French. Since it was a real flop at the time (1978), that is not surprising. It has some interesting aspects, though, and it is quite unique. Here is the trailer.

Though known for his association with the French cinema movement nouvelle vague, this film is very far away from their aesthetics (outdoors, natural light, subjectivism). It was filmed entirely at a soundstage with décor fixe. It may look like a school theater production at first, but the attention to detail is incredible.

The character talk in verse and speak a modernized version of a shortened Chrétien text. Chrétien de Toyes wrote down the original Roman de Perceval or ‘Li conte del Graal’ around 1180. You can read a transcription here, if you know Old French. This is what Wolfram used as template, btw. Except for the ending (Parzival suddenly understands religion and ‘relives’ the crucifixion of Christ) it is exactly according to the book.

Here is an example of what medieval miniatures looked like, from probably the most famous collection of Minnesang, Cod. pal. germ. 848, also called Codex Manesse. (You can browse the whole volume here). Note the women’s gestures up on the battlement (this scene has nothing to do with ‘Parzival’ btw).

Page 52 r of Codex Manesse (Cod. Pal. germ. 848)

Rohmer tried to imitate courtly postures and architecture througout the movie.

More examples for medieval art, a bit later. This time the paintings are on-topic.

Parzival and Condwiramurs. Page 147r of Cod. Pal. germ. 339; illustration by Hagenau - Diebold Lauber, ca. 1443-1446

Cod. Pal. germ. 339, page 111r: Parzival with Artus

At first, it may seem a little stiff, but at the same time you get the feeling of watching animated medieval paintings.  The film creates medieval aesthetics with modern means. You be the judge if this experiment has failed – or not.

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