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The Valley of the Bees [DVD] 
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A visionary and haunting medieval epic from the director of Marketa Lazarová. Set in 13th century Europe this raw and powerful moral fable of corruption and fundamentalism chronicles the tale of a young boy made to join the Brotherhood of the Teutonic Knights and how as a man he rejects their doctrine, and the terrible price he must pay for that rejection.
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Top Customer Reviews
So while this is not as great as Marketa Lazarova it is still a great piece of film-making which film buffs will want to see, especially fans of Tarkovsky and to some degree Bresson. Second Run have excelled again with an excellent presentation of an obscure film.
Length: 97 minutes
Sound: Original mono (restored)
Black & White
Original aspect ratio: 2.35:1 16x9 anamorphic
Subtitles: English On/Off
Made immediately after Marketa Lazarova one might have expected a further development of those complex spatial and temporal editing schemes. Instead, all the structural complexity has gone leaving a very straight forward linear narrative, albeit beautifully made and photographed.
The Second Run transfer is stunning.
I think that some of the action is rather clumsily realised, for example when the father throws his son against the wall, but that's a minor point in an otherwise very impressive film.
I now need to reflect upon the reasons why the director chose to express these two stories a such different ways - it's great film making in either case.
Vlacil's films were almost entirely forgotten and unknown outside of Czechoslovakia, so the appearance of Marketa Lazarova (1967) on DVD a couple of years back caused quite a stir - it's not every day a fully fledged visionary epic masterpiece turns up. Valley of the Bees was filmed alongside Marketa and, being set in a similar medieval period, Vlacil was able to use some of the same cast, crew, costumes and sets. Valley of the Bees is a more modest & straightforward film than Marketa (and, with its tense involving narrative, perhaps more immediately accessible) but it is filmed & edited in the same style, with almost every image and scene beautifully realized. Vlacil was clearly some kind of cinematic genius.
The film deals with the rejection of a foreign dogma divorced from reality, which can therefore only impose itself by descending into an insane violence. Unsurprisingly the Czech authorities saw the film as an allegorical critique of Soviet repression and with unfortunate timing the 1968 Russian invasion occurred just as the film was released. Today, however, the film might have a resonance in relation to religious fundamentalism, which goes to show how this kind of historical allegory, when done well, always reflects the present. Vlacil is careful to stay true to his characters and their situation in a non-judgemental way, which makes the film richly ambiguous for the viewer.
Another really excellent DVD from Second Run, with a useful essay from Peter Hames included in the accompanying booklet. Hames discusses a third related Vlacil film called Adelheid (1969) - let's hope that gets a release too.
In terms of interest and the level to which one is consumed by the plot, I'd put the film at around 4 stars perhaps. The story itself is a bit scary, following the logic of complete devotion to a religious ideal to its farthest extent. The movie exceeds itself in the ancient world it creates, a convincing world, but the end impression is that you are witnessing something vaguely familiar, a slice of an epoch from the history of ancient Europe. As such it seems to delve deeply not only into the psyche of Western culture (on which religion has had more than a little influence), but of human nature as well (as fanaticism has surely manifested itself in more than just religion). The film is a study of the sacred and the profane, which is which? I can understand why communist rule at the time of the release of this film wanted to quelch it. Beyond its setting within a Goth Christian world and it's vision of salvation, it seems to leave one to question the effects of any Machiavellian slavishness to an ideal. Powerful stuff.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found this film stupendously, dull, melodramatic and poorly acted.Published 14 months ago by Eleanor Hamilton
Runs a coarse eye over sexual frisson, parental cruelty, religious bondage, homo eroticism and jealousy. Read morePublished on 14 Mar. 2012 by Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles
'Valley of the Bees' was directed by Frantisek Vlacil who also made 'Marketa Lazarova' (also available on Second Run). I like both films and find them equal in quality. Read morePublished on 9 April 2010 by MarkusG