By Dave Graham
BERLIN (Reuters) - French actress Julie Delpy resurrects the specter of a blood-drenched countess in her third outing as director to recast one of Europe's most celebrated villains as a desperate player in a Greek tragedy.
In "The Countess," Delpy revisits the tale of Hungarian noblewoman Erzebet Bathory, best remembered as one of history's most prolific serial killers, who was walled up in her castle after being accused of murdering hundreds of young women.
Bathory has inspired dozens of films and novels as well as a host of songs by heavy metal bands. Many of them focus on a legend surrounding the countess that she bathed in the blood of virgins in the belief it would grant her eternal youth.
Presenting her movie at this year's Berlin film festival, Delpy said she wanted to get away from elements which have traditionally been associated with the gory countess.
"I thought her character was a good subject for a drama more than a horror film," said Delpy, 39, who plays Bathory in the film. "I wanted to make it more like a Greek tragedy with obsession and love, and being abandoned and betrayed."
Delpy also wrote the screenplay for the Franco-German co-production, having worked on the script for seven years.
The 94-minute film, which was shot partly on location in old castles and churches in southern Germany, focuses on Bathory's struggle to retain the affections of her younger lover Istvan Thurzo, played by German actor Daniel Bruehl.
Driven to extremes by her desire for Thurzo, the countess immerses herself in blood in a desperate bid to keep him -- and plays directly into the hands of her enemies.
Delpy told a news conference that Bathory still had a strong hold over the public's imagination -- nearly 400 years after her death in 1614 in what is now Slovakia at the age of 54.
"In our folklore she's very present; like the bad queen in Snow White, and in Dracula. She's inspired many writers throughout history as the dark side of woman," she said.
The film, which includes U.S. star William Hurt and Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca, also explored feminism, said Delpy.
"To accept that women can have a dark side is in a way accepting that we are all equal," she said. "It's a question of individuals and not gender. It is feminist, but it's past the feminism of the idea that women are great and men are bad."
Delpy, who described herself as "neurotic, psychotic and hyper" when asked where she drew her energy from, said the film was not just about the longing for eternal youth.
"To me it's more about dying and decaying and rotting. And I think a fear of aging is also a fear of death," she said. "And that's something I have. It's a pretty common fear."
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