Frantisek Vlacil (Czech, 1924) directed shorts like
Sklenena Oblaka/ Clouds of Glass (1958) while he was in the military.
His first full-length film after leaving the military was
Holubice/ The White Dove (1960), a poetic allegory which was
A decade older than the stars of the Czech new wave (Milos Forman, Jiri Menzel and Jan Nemec), he left the dogmas of social realism years before that generation did.
Dablova Past/ The Devil's Trap (1961),
set in the 16th century and
loosely based on Alfred Technik's novel "Mlyn na Ponorne Rece",
was his first evocation of a cruel nihilistic medieval society, his first allegorical fresco of the conflict between Christian values and pagan values.
The historical epic
Marketa Lazarova (1967), based on Vancura's novel (1931) and six years in the making,
is a hallucinated three-hour visual poem, set in
The plot mostly follows Vancura's novel but the focus on the experimental
narrative method. The film is mostly a series of tableaux that represent
the moral and physical misery of that universe, but tells us very little
of what goes on inside the putative protagonist.
Much is left out of Vancura's novel: the goal is clearly not to be a word by word adaptation of the novel. In particular,
omitted in the film is Alexandra's trial and suicide, and, in general, the
ending is just a mood piece where we hardly understand why what happens
happens (unless we have read the novel).
During a bitter winter a German bishop, a count, and his son and heir are traveling through the snowy Bohemian landscape with their servants and escort.
They run into a one-armed man who behaves like an idiot but suddenly attacks
the escort. Another man attacks the servants.
While the attackers are busy chasing the young count,
the bishop escapes and
a gang of scavengers robs the corpses.
The attackers return and almost kill the leader of the gang, Lazar,
but he prays god for his daughter Marketa and a light shines through the
clouds, and the attackers let him go.
We also see nuns walking in the snowy landscape.
The attackers are Mikolas and Adam (the one-armed man), two sons of Kozlik, who has a total of
eight sons and nine daughters. They return to the family's stronghold carrying
the two prisoners they didn't kill: the young count, who
speaks Czech, and an old servant.
Adam hands a crucifix to Alexandra as a gift but someone takes it away.
Kozlik is angry at Mikolas, who is the eldest son, for letting Lazar get away
and sparing the lives of two people.
We see a dreamy scene in which a naked woman makes love to a man who kills a serpent.
Later, Kozlik walks through the snowy forest chased by wolves and tells his wife Katerina
how the royal captain tried to arrest him for his crimes.
Kozlik sends his son Mikolas to offer an alliance with Lazar against the royal
army. Mikolas spared Lazar's life and now it's Lazar who spares Mikolas' life
when his thugs attack him. Meanwhile,
Marketa prays god, ashamed of her father's thieving and killing ways.
Mikolas returns home bloodied, and Kozlik's men swear revenge against Lazar,
but the royal regiment is closing in.
Adam sees Alexandra knock at the door of the hut where Kristian is confined
and guesses that Alexandra is attracted to the prisoner.
And Alexandra also protects the German prisoners from Mikolas.
Kozlik dispatches seven men to Lazar's place and demands to take him alive.
The royal regiment led by captain advances in the snow towards Lazar's place.
The seven Kozlik men arrive and kill the captain's most beloved soldier.
The captain now swears revenge against Kozlik.
Lazar delivers his daughter to a convent but the mother superior refuses her because Lazar didn't bring a dowry.
Marketa is heartbroken to return to Lazar's place.
Lazar feels miserable because he doesn't have a heir, only has a mentally disabled son.
Their place has been taken over by Mikolas, Adam and their men who have killed everybody, including Lazar's son.
Lazar begs for his life but they crucify him to the gate and ride away with Marketa.
Kozlik's gang has retreated to the woods.
Kozlik's wife then tells the story of Straba the werewolf while
we see Alexandra free Kristian and have sex with him
and we see Mikolas tempted by Marketa
and then decisively raping her.
Kozlik tells his wife to shut up.
His wife says that the curse of the werewolf cannot touch the seventh son
Kozlik is now angry that Mikolas was distracted by Marketa while the royal
regiment is marching on them and that he didn't bring Lazar alive.
Kozlik orders Mikolas to torture Marketa.
Kristian tries to save her, but is killed. Alexandra is furious.
Mikolas throws away the torture chains.
Marketa is left alone in the snow.
The second part opens with a wandering monk walking in a landscape
and discussing with god. The snow is melting and he is accompanied by a lamb.
He walks into Lazar's place and is attacked by a man who steals his lamb.
We see that Lazar survived.
The monk then wanders away in the forest mumbling madly. He
stumbles into dead people but doesn't even realize it: he's looking for
Adam sees him. Just then the royal regiment rides by and Adam falls in a trap.
Adam is captured by the regiment. The old count, recognizing him as the
man who attacked them, demands his head, but the captain wants to find the
rest of the Kozlik gang.
Adam pretends to be mute so he doesn't have to answer their questions, but the
captain forces him to lead them to Kozlik.
Meanwhile, Kozlik has chained the two couples on a nearby hill: Mikolas and
Marketa, Kristian and Alexandra.
A flashback shows that young Adam was punished for sleeping with his sister
Alexandra: his own father chopped his arm off with an axe.
Adam drags the regiment into a swamp.
The mad wandering monk stumbles into Kozlik's camp. Kozlik's men laugh
at his delirious story of the lamb sent by god to him.
They offer him wine and he gets drunk while Kozlik's wife predicts Kozlik's downfall.
In the morning they comically let him have a sheep's head.
The regiment has surrounded the camp. Kozlik orders the two couples freed.
The captain demands that Kozlik surrenders the kidnapped boy Kristian and
that he himself surrenders.
A defiant Kozlik challenges the professional army with his ragtag army of fools and thieves.
The old count demands that the captain trade Adam for his son Kristian but
the captain refuses.
Adam tries to escape but is killed by a swarm of arrows before he can reach his father Kozlik.
The captain orders the assault but Kozlik's men succeed in repulsing the
better armed attackers.
The monk watches the carnage in disbelief.
The old count spots his son Kristian and Alexandra and shouts to kill the
woman. Kristian is torn between his father and his lover. He tells his father that she is pregnant.
The regiment prevails over Kozlik's men killing scores.
A delirious Kristian wanders among the ruins and the corpses looking for her.
He finds only one person still alive: the monk, who has taken shelter in Lazar's place.
While Kristian collapses and it starts snowing again, the monk roasts a piece of meat, eats and talks to himself.
Kristian wakes up and walks out of the ruins. The place is surrounded by
wolves but they let him walk by.
We see that Kozlik is being carried away unconscious by the captain's regiment.
The women and only two adult men flee to the swamp, where they live of fish.
Eventually Mikolas returns alive. His mother Katerina is happy to see him.
She is resigned that Kozlik will be killed by the captain but Mikolas wants to
storm the prison where the captain is probably holding his father.
Marketa never speaks, but now behaves like she belongs there.
When Mikolas releases her, Marketa curses him for kidnapping and raping her,
but then they make love.
He tells her a story of him and his father hunting a deer.
He calls her his wife and claims that God made him do it.
Alexandra is walking nearby and finds Kristian crawling like a wild animal.
She takes a big stone and crushes his head (not clear why).
Marketa walks back to her father's place.
The wandering monk opens the gate and warns her that she's come back at a bad time.
Lazar accuses her of having enjoyed the rape and expels her.
Somehow the old count (the bishop) is there and somehow Marketa leads him to
where Kristian was killed.
Marketa finds shelter in the convent.
While Marketa joins the mother superior in prayer, we see that Mikolas and the two adult men are storming the prison.
Mikolas is hit by incendiary arrows and finally stabbed by a mob of the captain's soldiers.
A child leads Marketa out of the convent to the prison, where she is
delivered the dying Mikolas.
The captain, moved to compassion by her grief, marries Mikolas and Marketa in front of Kozlik before taking Kozlik back to the prison.
She lies down alone in a landscape of skeletons.
The monk, who is now wandering with a goat, finds her and invites her to join
his (senseless) pilgrimage, but his goat runs away and Marketa walks in the
opposite direction, smiling.
The narrating voice informs us that Alexandra and Marketa both had sons and nursed them together.
Udoli Vcel/ The Valley of the Bees (1968) is another historical epic
set in the 13th century.
Adelheid (1970) is an adaptation of Vladimir Korner's novel (1967).
After two short movies and the war drama Sirius (1975),
Bohumil Riha's novel "Doktor Meluzin" as
Dym Bramborove/ Smoke on the Potato Fields (1977).
Stiny Horkeho Leta/ Shadows of a Hot Summer (1978)
Working with screenwriter Zdenek Mahler, Vlacil directed his last films:
the biopic Koncert na Konci Leta/ Concert at the End of Summer (1980) about the composer Dvorak,
Hadi Jed/ Snake's Venom (1981),
Pasacek z Doliny/ The Little Shepherd Boy from the Valley (1983), an adaptation of Antonin Fuks' novella,
Albert (1985), an adaptation of a short story by Leo Tolstoy,
Stin Kapradiny/ Shades of Fern (1986), an adaptation of Josef Capek's novella,
and another biopic, Mag/ Magician (1988).
He died in 1999.
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