“Valley of the Bees” (1967)–Review

valleyValley of the Bees (1967)

Director: Frantisek Vlacil
Screenplay: Vladimir Korner & Frantisek Vlacil
Cast: Petr Cepek, Jan Kacer, Vera Galatikova, Josef Somr

I have fallen in love with the Czech “New Wave”.

To date, I’ve seen a number of its representative films and can find little fault with any of them. It lacks the pretension and self-regard of its French counterpart and even within the confines of a closed, oppressive political system, manages to give every impression of aesthetic freedom of movement, creative ambition and joie de vivre.

“Marketa Lazarova” (also directed by Vlacil) was one of the best films I’ve seen in the past five years and only time constraints have kept me from reviewing it here. An oversight I hope to correct very soon. A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of viewing Jaromil Jires’ “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” and marvelled at the interplay between reality and the fantastic. Visually stylish but never permitting form to overwhelm content. “Closely Watched Trains” was another gem, an erotic charmer that deftly and realistically combined the tragic and comic.

“Valley of the Bees” is a medieval tale about a monk knight who flees holy orders and, pursued by one of his devout brethren, returns to his home village and the estate his family maintains there. Ondrej finds much changed in the years since his departure: his father dead, the family’s fortunes declining, the patriarch’s attractive widow doing her best with the assistance of a few loyal retainers.

Ondrej and his stepmother are drawn to each other and there is also Ondrej’s close, intimate relationship with Armin, his dogged fellow knight, determined to return with him to the order’s remote northern keep…unspoken, forbidden love lies at the very heart of the narrative.

Magnificently composed, beautifully shot (by Fratisek Uldrich), “The Valley of the Bees” is a morality tale that relies on subtle hints and knowing glances—the cast is to be commended for never over-playing, veering into histrionics. In the end, we’re left wondering, without any hope of clear resolution: did faith win out or are those far-off brothers about to receive a visitation from a soulless, blasted revenant?

Great cinema, not to be missed.


About Cliff Burns

I'm a literary writer, specializing in slipstream/ alternative/surreal/science fiction. My influences include Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, David Cronenberg, Rene Magritte, any artist who defies convention and busts open genres, attacking the status quo.
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