Of the new directors to have made their mark in Czechoslovak cinema in the late 1950s and 1960s, František Vláčil (1924–1999) appeared as a figure set apart. His preference for historical subject matter and his visual style separate him from his contemporaries. Many of his historical films are concerned primarily with an attack on dogmatism. After Marketa Lazarová (1967; shot between 1964 and 1966), also set in the Middle Ages and having cost Barrandov Studios almost twice the initial planned budget, the producers insisted that Vláčil use some of the costumes and props to make a second film set in the same period.
The Valley of the Bees is set in the thirteenth century, when Bohemia had been a Christian kingdom for two centuries. However, elements of pagan survival are still present, and they are depicted in a positive manner by Vláčil. The film has been described as having a ‘restrained’ visual style, ‘obviously derived from the geometric rigour of [Sergei] Eisenstein [1898–1948]’. Parallels with Alexander Nevsky (1938), more specifically, have been pointed out – the ‘knights clad in white, the formal repressive force of Teutonic Christianity’, and ‘the Czechs clad in black, linked still to the traditions of primitive religion and the indulgence of sensual passion’. However, Vláčil takes this symbolic distinction (in Eisenstein’s film depicted by the repressive force of the Germans and the humanity of the Russians) beyond the simple propaganda exercise, and tries to project himself into the conflict of traditions and values with historical insight. When the camera examines the ‘formal perfection’ of the knights’ castle on the Baltic and Ondřej takes his vows – promising ‘to renounce father and mother, to harden the heart, and never to succumb to the temptation of man, woman or his own body’ –, the mass of the stone walls emphasises the repression and the rejection of humanity that this implies. There is also a latent and unacknowledged homosexual relationship between Ondřej and Andrej – again, supressed feelings are present. Throughout the film, and regardless of the ideological ascendancy of the knights, Vláčil seems to side with ‘the cause of pagan humanity’. The composer Zdeněk Liška (1922–1983), who had already worked with Vláčil on Marketa Lazarová, provided the score.
Part of the Medieval Film Club, for more information go to the website.
This screening is open to all and free to attend. No booking required.
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