In the 17th Century, the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Julie Delpy) and her husband, General Ferenc Nadasdy (Jack Berglund), are regarded as one of the most powerful couples in Hungary. Soon after Nadasdy's death, Elizabeth begins a passionate relationship with Istvan Thurzo (Daniel Bruhl), who is nearly 20 years her junior. When Istvan leaves her, she believes it is because of her age. This ultimately leads to her believing that the blood of virgin girls can help her remain youthful, and Elizabeth starts a mysterious killing spree to satisfy her vanity.
The issue surrounding Elizabeth Bathory makes for an interesting narrative in the cinematic format. The story is told in a rather linear fashion, beginning with Elizabeth as a child and how politics deemed who she should marry in her older age. Politics is perhaps the best dealt with theme in the film: while not shown in a refreshing manner, politics still has an overriding importance into understanding how arranged marriages were so important for families in regards to gaining new ties and allies and, more importantly, how these marriages ultimately develop characters in order to enrich the story. Yet it is disappointing that nothing helps strengthen the plot: the life of Elizabeth Bathory is open to much speculation with there being a debate as to whether she really is the 'Blood Countess' or whether she was trapped in a political conspiracy. But none of this is even questioned until the very end of the story, but by then it is so incredibly obvious that the filmmakers have wanted to portray Elizabeth as a cold-hearted murderer, that the alternate paradigm briefly introduced serves little purpose. Another problem with the narrative is how the film's underlying philosophy, as emphasized by a voice over from Istvan at the very start of the film, is in conflict with the film's main story. Istvan believes that the true story of Elizabeth was never revealed but as shown from the films intention, it clearly is.
There is a reasonably strong cast in the film but it never shows. Both Delpy and Bruhl lack emotion and their portrayed relationship is not any better. In Delpy's defence it can be argued that her character lacked any real emotion but nevertheless, there is nothing really compelling about the performance. William Hurt features at points throughout the film but he rarely makes much of an impact. The best of the lot is Annamaria Marcina who feels more believable then her co-stars, and does a good job as a supporting actress.
Julie Delpy does shine in her role as director with the film being, for the most part, eloquently shot. There are some interesting scenes of symbolism with the heightened ominous atmosphere of the film starting off early and is carried along until the end. Considering the subject matter, the film is neither as gory or bloody as you would expect, but the acts of cruelness still have a haunting presence to them, and Delpy must be congratulated for this. Likewise the musical score appears to compliment the film though is forgettable by the end, and the costume design has a real sense of reality to them though they lack extravagance as shown in other similar period films.
Sex is implied with upper female nudity appearing at times in the first half of the narrative. Language is almost unheard of but violence is shown in various manners: there is some decapitation, and piercing of skin from sharp items. None of the violence is lingered upon but their buildup has a threatening quality to them; blood does appear throughout.
The Countess is a surprisingly average film with a good sense of technical techniques being weighed down by some weak showcases of acting and a confused directional narrative. The beginning attempts to setup the film as a mystery thriller, something to get audiences debating the accuracy of events, but ultimately the film is so conclusive with what it wants audiences to believe that the film gets muddled up in its own creative process. It is an interesting movie with an exciting subject at its helm, but it is nonetheless a flawed film that just never gets going.
-(Durban International Film Festival 2009)