The Valley of the Bees DVD
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Directed by Frantisek Vlacil
Produced in 1968
Main Language - Czech with English subtitles
Anyone who marvelled at Frantisek Vlacil's Marketa Lazarova will need no persuading to investigate this haunting companion film, made the following year, as Michael Brooke explains.
One of the most thrilling world cinema discoveries in recent years (at least outside its native Czechoslovakia, where they've known about it since 1967) was Frantisek Vlácil's epic Marketa Lazarová. It's initially tempting to assume that Valley of the Bees, completed the same year, is some kind of sequel. After all, it's also set in the medieval era, brought to equally vivid life with the same extraordinarily convincing, almost tactile sense of the past, resplendent widescreen black-and-white cinematography charged with the compositional eye of a Brueghel, and a score by the great Zdenek Liska.
But the differences are as marked as the similarities: whereas the earlier film was an appropriately wild and untamed evocation of pagan Bohemia, Valley of the Bees is bound by the same rigorous code of conduct that determines the behaviour of the members of the Order of St Mary of Jerusalem, dedicated to extreme spiritual purification through the renouncing of all family connections, worldly goods and even physical contact with other people. Armin von Heiden is a true believer who embraces his religious calling with terrifying single-mindedness, whereas Ondrej of Vlkov has been sent there by his father and is much more inclined to rebel - though in a carefully understated way, given that the penalty for overtly challenging the Order's rules is a swift, violent and highly visible death. It also doesn't help that Armin has taken something of a shine to Ondrej, proposing that they test their physical endurance by immersing themselves in freezing water, their arms locked in almost homoerotic embrace. When Ondrej finally escapes the Order, he finds himself the object of an equally forbidden desire, that of his stepmother Lenora, and this time it's reciprocated.
An early shot of a beehive being gingerly probed with bare hands sets the film's overall tone (bees representing another society forced to live by strict edicts), and the Czech Communist authorities were sufficiently suspicious of Vlácil's portrait of a man forced to join a fanatically ideologised community against his will to raise questions about the film's subversive intentions after the Soviet tanks invaded in August 1968.
Admirers of Marketa Lazarová should not hesitate to re-immerse themselves in Vlacil’s world.
Michael Brooke on 19th January 2010
Author of 135 reviews
A visionary and haunting medieval epic from the director of Marketa Lazarová.
Set in 13th century Europe, this raw and powerful moral fable of corruption and fundamentalism chronicles the tale of a young boy made to join the Brotherhood of the Teutonic Knights and how as a man he rejects their doctrine, and the terrible price he must pay for that rejection.
Publisher: Second Run
Length: 97 mins
Aspect ratio: 16:9 Widescreen
Cat No: SECONDRUN040
Format: DVD B&W
- Presented in a new digital transfer with restored picture and sound
- New and improved English subtitle translation
- Booklet featuring essay by author and film programmer Peter Hames.
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