Kytice (Wildflowers) is a series of 7 short films thematically linked and based on a series of ballads written 200 years ago by KJ Erbena, regarded by some as the Czech equivalent of William Shakespeare. They are famous folk-stories and fairy tales, well-known to anyone in the Czech Republic. Adapting them to the big screen was therefore always going to be quite a challenge for a film-maker brave enough to take them on.
F A Brabec, with a strong background in cinematography and directing, is the director who has chosen to adapt the ballads for the screen and he plays it safe with Kytice. All of the tales are superbly crafted, sumptuously photographed, meticulously lit and almost devoid of any real emotion or meaning – but then we are dealing with fairy tales here. Of the 13 ballads composed by KJ Erbena, 7 have been chosen for adaptation to film. They feature many of the staples of the genre – cautionary tales with witches, wicked step-mothers and princes looking for brides. There is a fair amount of horror in the stories but nothing too terrifying.
A woman dies in a thunderstorm while out in the fields. She is buried and her children care for her grave which bears forth wildflowers. This episode acts as a framing episode for the other ballads setting a theme and a mood for the others to follow.
A young girl goes to the river despite her mother’s warnings of dangers she has foreseen. The girl falls into the river and is taken to be the wife of a creature who lives in the river. She bears him a son, but longs to see her mother again. The Waterman (played by Czech pop-star Dan Bárta) warns her of terrible consequences should she fail to return.
Svatební Košile (Wedding Shirts)
A young maiden prays for her fiancé’s return from the war, whatever the cost. She doesn’t know that he has died in the war however and when her prayer is answered, she appears not to notice that he has returned from the grave and wants to take her back with him.
Polednice (Noon Witch)
Preparing food in the kitchen, a mother is frustrated by the constant crying of her child. She threatens the child that the noon-witch will take him away if he doesn’t stop crying. The noon-witch hears her call.
Zlatý Kolovrat (Golden Spinwheel)
A royal prince spies a beautiful girl bathing in the woods. He finds where she lives and demands to have her as his bride. Her stepmother plans to kill the girl and to have her own daughter take her place in the royal palace.
Dcerina Kletba (Daughter’s Curse)
A girl kills the child she has borne illegitimately and is to be hanged for her crime. She curses her pious mother from the gallows.
Štedrý den (Christmas Day)
A young maiden believes the superstition that her future love will appear reflected in the lake on at midnight on a moonlit Christmas Eve. She goes with her sister and they see the death of their mother also foretold to them.
The film ends with a Seventh Seal style parade of the dead characters being led from the church that features in several of the episodes.
All the episodes make use of strong imagery, bold, bright and rich colours and impeccable compositions. The director has tried to give each episode its own feel and colour scheme, tying it into a particular season for additional mood. Some episodes are remarkably effective – Wedding Shirts uses no special effects, but plays the story like a carefully choreographed ballet or opera with its characters floating across a blue moonlit landscape on wires. It also manages to be chillingly creepy without exactly being horrific, an effect equally well-done in Waterman and Noon Witch. Daughter’s Curse manages to be the most emotionally powerful, but would probably be more effective if you could figure out what it is all about. While earlier episodes are around 15-20 minutes long, the latter episodes suffer greatly by being compressed into about 5 minutes.
The overall effect of all the episodes however is much too sugary. This is the kind of film that uses white feathers for snow flakes. The director’s background in television advertising is all too evident with episodes at times reminding one of a Flake or a Timotea advert. The ballads are all performed in verse and this works quite well. The English subtitled translation is superb, appropriately rhyming and phrasing very much in the style of a folk song.
The DVD is region free and contains dual menus in English and Czech.
The DVD cover states that the film is 14:9 widescreen. I don’t know what this is supposed to mean – the film is actually letterboxed at 1.85:1. In the main the quality is excellent – there are few marks and only a few signs of digital artefacts in backgrounds. The subtitles fall just below the picture, so zooming the image for widescreen televisions will cut them off slightly. Otherwise the film looks tremendous, the carefully composed colour schemes coming across extremely effectively and the picture remaining sharp and bright.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack are provided and perform effectively. The flute playing, which runs through the menus becomes a bit irritating after a while.
Photos from shooting
A well presented picture gallery that doesn’t offer anything more than can be seen in the film itself.
Actor and Filmmaker Biographies
Good detailed biographies are included for all the main cast and crew in English and in Czech.
Making of (14.27)
The Making of features mainly the creative and technical film crew speaking about their ideas for the film and how each of the ballads were treated individually. English subtitles on this extra are not to the standard of the main feature. There are frequent grammatical errors, but the meaning is easily understood.
Two movie trailers, both 1.85:1 letterbox and unsubtitled and a short TV spot are included. They all use much the same clips from the film and show off the strong visual nature of the film very well.
The set up for three scenes from the film are shown in more detail here, showing different aspects of making the film. From the on-location and studio-set underwater shooting to the wire and crane work and directing of the actors. The combined running time for these features is about 14 minutes.
There is a substantial amount of advertising from the film and video companies and from the sponsors of the film. There is at least half an hour of trailers for other features in the Jakubisco and Centrum catalogues. Be warned, there are some Skoda adverts hiding around in the extras also.
From other Czech DVDs I have seen it is evident and pleasing that some care has been put into producing editions with subtitles that make them accessible to a larger European audience. This is certainly the case at least with Centrum DVDs, which include the complete back catalogue of Jan Sverák (Kolya, Dark Blue World). From my experience however, DVDs are more expensive in the Czech republic than anywhere else in Europe. Despite it rich background in Czech culture I’m not sure that Kytice is a worthy purchase as a great film, but it is certainly a good introduction to Czech cinema and a promising taste of what could be available on DVD in the Czech Republic.
Kytice can be purchased online from Bontonland. This Czech site has English language ordering options.