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Friday, June 25, 2010

UDOLI VCEL / THE VALLEY OF THE BEES (1967)


Though only a decade older than the leading figures of the Czech New Wave (Milos Forman, Ivan Passer, Jiri Menzel, et al.), director Frantisek Vlacil is barely known Stateside. And this handsomely made, thoughtful film shows why. In 13th Century Bohemia, a noble son of woeful countenance is forced by his father to take up a strict monastic life after disrupting the celebration of Dad’s new marriage to a much younger bride. The banished son grows to manhood under the special care & tutelage of a brother monk who has only recently returned from The Crusades; the bond between them strengthened by religious, intellectual & fleshly (if nonsexual) intimacy. An unplanned escape from the monastery leads the novice back to his home, and into a marriage with his own step-mother, his father’s widow. But an unexpected guest shows up just in time for their wedding celebration; it's the boy's old mentor, back once more from the Crusades. Can breaking religious vows ever be the right thing to do? Has this brother monk returned in the name of revenge or is it jealousy? And is this Man’s justice . . . or God’s? Vlacil has his champions, but he pushes his big themes at us like a salesman, they don't grow naturally from the film's fabric, but play out like art house hand-me-downs from the Bergman, Bresson & Dreyer crowd. To say nothing of Tarkovsky, whose magnificent ANDREI RUBLEV appeared at just about the same time.

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