You’ve Got to Change Your Medieval Ways, Baby:
Valley of the Bees
A film by Frantisek Vlácil
Available from Facets Video, $29.95
Support Flickhead—buy this item from Amazon
Valley of the Bees
Directed by Frantisek Vlácil. Written by Vladimír Körner and Mr. Vlácil.
With Petr Cepek, Jan Kacer, Vera Galatíková.
Review by Nelhydrea Paupér
Made during the Soviet era, one year before Moscow’s tanks replaced the hope-filled Prague Spring with the wretched Prague Winter, Frantisek Vlácil’s Valley of the Bees
stands apart from much of the lighter, more modernist New Wave influenced Czech films of the 1960s. Steeped in the Classical cinema taught so thoroughly and effectively in the film schools of Eastern Europe, the technical skill of the filmmaking is evident in every frame, every composition, every carefully weighed image. Those guys in the post-war film schools of Prague, Warsaw, Moscow, et al really taught cinema—it’s almost a joke to think what NYU and UCLA are producing in their film departments these days by comparison.
Still, the medieval world depicted in Valley of the Bees
is so studied and formal and stiff that it never takes off the way Tarkovsky’s does—literally—in Andrei Rublev
, made just one year before. Nor does it have the intentionally awkward stiffness Bresson used so effectively a few years later in Lancelot Du Lac
. (One might also mention Bergman’s Virgin Spring
as an influence.)
Comparisons are, of course, unfair. But as a film experience Valley of the Bees
always, for this viewer, seems to be too preoccupied with its sense of importance and formality to ever become completely engrossing or enlightening. Somewhat like Liszt, it dazzles with technical brilliance but ultimately proves empty.
Vlácil, like many filmmakers living under the Soviet hammer and sickle, was determined to contrast the brutal heart of the Christian church with the savagery of the Dark Ages and, by extension, the iron-clad oppression of Soviet domination. The formalism of Vlácil’s effort comes out of the formalism of the Soviet-styled film schools of the era. It’s impressive but, in and of itself, it just isn’t satisfying. This wayback-machine aims for the 1200s but gets stuck in the pessimism of the 1960s. It may well be worth a visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Copyright © 2006 by Nelhydrea Paupér