Anazapta (2002, US title: Black Plague)
Medieval Murder Mystery
Anazapta, also known as Black Plague, came out on July 26, 2002 and was later re-released in 2004 on video. Directed by Alberto Sciamma, it stars Lena Headey as Lady Matilda, an English noblewoman whose husband, Sir Walter, has been taken hostage by the French during the Hundred Years’ War. In 1348, England, a group of soldiers return from the war with a French prisoner names Jacques de Saint Amant. Supposedly, he is the eldest son of a count and Matilda would be able to ransom him and then exchange him for Sir Walter. She must do so because she is in huge debt to the bishop and would be forced to give the bishop sexual favors if she does not pay the debt on time. Meanwhile many men in the village begin dying from what is seemingly the black plague. However, it is revealed that Jacques is not the real Jacques, and that Sir Walter had a first wife, whom he caught cheating on him. He gave his first wife to the men of the village to be raped and murdered. She became pregnant, gave birth, and died in childbirth. The baby grew up to be this fake Jacques and he has come back to the village for revenge against all men who were a part of his mother’s rape and murder. He kills men in the village by magically giving them the plague through secret rituals.
This movie’s only real historical accuracy is the year it takes place in and the fact that Matilda’s husband is taken prisoner, as capturing noble prisoners to ransom them was a frequent occurrence in wartime. The representation of the black plague is not an accurate one. Words are scratched into the backs of those who die, and only the men of the village seem to get it. This is because it’s not really the black plague. This film uses the setting of the black plague as a plot device to tell a revenge story. This removes it from the narrative of the actual black plague and turns it into a supernatural murder mystery. Rather than the great equalizer, the plague is targeted to the men who have wronged Jacques’s mother. Rather than being worried about everyone dying of the sickness, the audience wonders who Jacques will kill next, and why he is doing this. The plague is used as a weapon and is used to murder.
The portrayal of women in this film is just awful. Lady Matilda is left all alone at her estate when Walter is taken prisoner. This also leaves her in charge of the village. It would have been a great way for the film to show how noblewomen could exert power and leadership over the village or their own affairs, but unfortunately this is not the case. She spends all her time either evading sexual advances from the bishop or Nicholas, promising to give the bishop sexual favors, or making foolish decisions because of her budding romance with Jacques, whom she barely knows. The only motivation for most of Matilda’s actions are fear of sexual assault or misguided love for a man. Her one instance of good leadership is when she decides to hold mass for the scared villagers, but even then she must give into the bishop’s sexual desires to do so. The film has no coherent message about the constant sexual abuse it hurls towards women, and is not nearly complex enough to try.
Great British Films
Late Middle Ages (c. 1300-1500)