The Valley of the Bees (1968)

If nothing else, Vlacil’s next feature had one advantage over Marketa Lazarova: it was over an hour shorter (100 minutes as opposed to 165). Booklet notes that the two were kind of shot together and Valley was actually finished first, though released second. We’re in 13th century Bohemia again, Vlacil seems to have written this film Corman-style to be able to reuse sets and costumes from the other film (though in the end he couldn’t use them), although this time concerns are somewhat different: man offers his son Ondrej to the Teutonic Knights as penance for trying to kill him, Ondrej grows to manhood, is inspired to flee the knights and return to his old castle, and is duly pursued by his friend Armin who is determined to drag his sorry soul back to the Order. Meanwhile Ondrej prepares to marry his stepmother, thus continuing the undercurrent of incest that also runs through Marketa (was it a common thing in medieval Bohemia?) while adding a vaguely sublimated homoerotic element in the relationship between the two men. On the whole I found I liked this better than the previous film (the comparative brevity was a factor, I must admit, along with the narrative being rather more easily discernible, and there’s marginally more warmth in its wide monochrome images), which is not to say that it doesn’t offer a similar sort of bleakness; finished and released before the actual Soviet invasion, it’s still easy to see the Teutonic Knights here as a surrogate for Soviet Communism, both were a foreign imposition, and Armin’s fanaticism (most clearly expressed in the astonishing encounter with the priest) is clearly meant to reflect badly on them. But Ondrej is no hero for fleeing their clutches, quite the reverse; he went in as something of an obnoxious brat and came out not much improved. There’s another parallel with Vlacil’s previous film for you; in neither film do any of the main characters come out looking particularly good.

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