The Valley of the Bees

František Vláčil  Dedicated to the memory of František Vláčil

A short excerpt from the Booklet essay by Peter Hames.

In a survey of Czech film critics held in 1998, František Vláčil’s film Marketa Lazarová (1967) was voted the best Czech film ever made and its director received a lifetime achievement award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the same year. It may seem surprising therefore that neither the film nor its director have had a significant presence in general histories of the cinema. The Valley of the Bees, released the same year, was made almost back to back with Marketa Lazarová and, unsurprisingly, has a number of features in common.

Originally, the film had been intended to use the sets and costumes from Marketa Lazarová, but the sets were destroyed and this became impossible. Nonetheless, the authentic costumes and wooden implements and textures of the previous film are continued, and even some of the actors from Marketa Lazarová appear, (Michal Kožuch, who played Lazar, appears as Father Blasius and Zdeněk Kryzánek, who played, Pivo, appears as Ondřej’s father). The film was made very quickly in the spring of 1967, clearly drawing on the extended experience of the earlier film. It was actually completed before Marketa Lazarová was finally finished, although it was not released until the following year during the Prague Spring. Subsequent to the Russian invasion, its theme based on the struggle with dogmatism was given a political interpretation (i.e. the dominance of a foreign ideology was interpreted as the triumph of Soviet orthodoxy), and its screenings were restricted.

Josef Škvorecký once noted that, in the fifties, under the impact of Socialist Realism, contemporary reality “simply trickled out of the films, and the better directors retreated en masse into the past, both historical and literary” (All the Bright Young Men and Women, p. 35-36). Körner took the same course after difficulties with his first script in the early 1960s. If writers and directors began to use the past as a semi-permitted framework for wider discussion, it was inevitable that audiences would provide their own contemporary applications. Any convinced hardliner, anxious to root out subversion, would eventually search even here. Vláčil’s profound study of the dangers and conflicts engendered by dogmatism, since it could not be seen as a commentary on what actually happened in 1968, was seen as a prediction before the event.

Peter Hames’s complete Essay, from which this short excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet of the DVD release.

Disc Info

Black Snow Boxshot

Czechoslovakia, 1967
Length / The Valley of the Bees: 97 minutes
Sound: Original mono (restored)
Black & White
Original aspect ratio: 2.35:1 16x9 anamorphic
Language: Czech
Subtitles: English On/Off
Region 0
RRP: £12.99
Release Date: 22nd March 2010
Second Run DVD 040


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