Directed by: Frantisek Vlacil
Countries & Regions: Czech Republic
Length: 97 mins
Released: 22 March 2010
Cat No: SECONDRUN040
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The Valley of the Bees
Medieval drama from Polish director Frantisek Vlacil. Cast out by his father, young Ondrej (Petr Cepek) joins the Order of the Teutonic... Read More
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.