The Frantisek Vlacil Collection Review

The Second Run DVD label has collected its three individual releases of movies by Czech director František Vláčil, added the 2003 feature length portrait film Sentiment as an exclusive to the set, and put them all in a nice box for sale at a bargain price. The František Vláčil Collection retails for less than the combined price of just two of the included titles so it's more or less like getting the third release for free and having Sentiment thrown in as an additional bonus. Nifty deal. Consider, too, that the selection of films is top notch.

Vláčil's epic Marketa Lazarová has been cited as the greatest Czech movie ever made. His follow-up, The Valley of the Bees, is a less ambitious picture in comparison but the Middle Ages-set drama is also generally well regarded. With Adelheid, Vláčil crafted an intimate look at the relationship between a German woman being kept as a servant after World War II and the military lieutenant whose well-being she cares for while sharing a large house together. In the process, the director also explored the harsh treatment afforded Germans living in Sudetenland after the Allies' victory in WWII. Sentiment is something entirely different. A pseudo-documentary portrait of the elderly director at his home, the film uses an actor to play Vláčil so it becomes something of a one-man play consisting of a mixture of recollections and rants. More on that one later in the review.

Since all three of the previously issued Second Run releases included in this set have been reviewed in depth at this site, it seems best to yield to those opinions via links and pertinent excerpts.

On Marketa Lazarová, John White wrote in his review:

Marketa Lazarova is a sprawling epic adaptation of Vladislav Vancura's novel by Czech director Frantisek Vlácil, it is also a film voted the greatest Czech film of all time and it thoroughly deserves its fine reputation. It is told in episodic novel format with different chapters introduced by intertitles explaining the events you are about to see, and it is set in the medieval Czech Republic. The story is one that has been treated in many national contexts, and is concerned with the feudal world of tribe and superstition and the growing influence of church and state. Like many westerns since, the setting is one of lawlessness and the establishment of power through might.

For The Valley of the Bees, Anthony Nield's review began:

Following up their 2007 release of Marketa Lazarová, a disc that marked its international premiere on the format, Second Run now return to Frantisek Vlácil for his subsequent feature, The Valley of the Bees. The two films make for interesting bedfellows, sharing the same 13th century setting and serving as perfect demonstrations of Vlácil’s very distinctive style. Yet whereas Marketa Lazarová was an incredibly dense work in narrative terms, The Valley of the Bees is comparatively simple. In essence the film could almost be a Western: the tale of the pursued and his pursuer, set amongst a harsh, unforgiving landscape.

Finally, from my own Adelheid review:

The film, Vláčil's first in color, is a remarkable depiction of what one might call false love. The two lead characters get to know each other's habits and gestures without really bonding over much beyond desperation and availability, or, perhaps, fate. Neither can know for sure what the other is thinking. It's all a theatrical production of sorts, where the lonely wanderer finds a woman who has little choice but to obey him regardless of how she actually feels. And how she actually feels, emotionally, ideologically and so on, proves to be the crux of the film. There isn't an easiness to any of this. Both characters' reactions register as true and deeply complicated. If there was an element of magical obedience here it would perhaps feel more like a romance or a love story but it would be perverse to even suggest such a thing. The film instead cuts into what a story of lovers can be, consequently evoking a stronger feeling of their shared pain and questioning the very perception of romance.

All three assessments were glowing, to the point where those who have maybe just one of the releases already might be intrigued enough to still get this collection out of convenience and as a way to take a look at Sentiment. The 2003 film directed by Tomás Hejtmánek has been given spine number 055 by Second Run. In it, the actor Jiří Kodet plays František Vláčil while an unseen cameraman and director film him speaking at his home in a somewhat disheveled state. An often stubbled Vláčil is portrayed as teetering away from sobriety. He looks and acts a mess in the course of imparting small tokens of memories about his career. He addresses both the director, who answers back, and the silent cameraman. It is not strictly an interview or even what might be considered an essay. The structure of the comments is very loose and unfocused to the point where it becomes more of a character study than anything else.

The origin of the piece apparently began with Hejtmánek having sat down with Vláčil with the intent of making an actual documentary portrait of him. Before the project could go much beyond several taped interviews, Vláčil died and Hejtmánek was left with the task of somehow trying to use what he had from the sessions. Given the circumstances, Hejtmánek's attempts to cobble something together seems admirable but the result is still a noble failure. Kodet as Vláčil comes across as too performed. He's also a rather sad character whose contributions to cinema are never really examined. Watching this version of Vláčil is unlikely to give the viewer any additional insight into him as a person or a filmmaker. Interludes, with unsubtitled dialogue from Vláčil's films on the soundtrack, to shooting locations and moments in the outdoors also seem overly ponderous. The blue-tinted monochrome of Sentiment becomes an uninviting experience, if still a definite curiosity.


The Discs


Second Run's The František Vláčil Collection consists of four separate keepcases - one each for Marketa Lazarová, The Valley of the Bees, Adelheid, and Sentiment - housed in a slipcase box. All discs are PAL and region-free. Sentiment - just 71 minutes long - is single-layered while the others are on dual-layered discs.

Again, it might be helpful to refer back to our earlier reviews of the Vláčil-directed films for information on their technical quality. My brief assessment is that all three currently exist as the definitive editions in the English language marketplace and, given the general lack of interest and care among other labels, that's not likely to soon change. Marketa Lazarová and The Valley of the Bees are both in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The latter looks nicer, sharper and with better contrast but the former shouldn't disappoint either. It's probably one of Second Run's more marquee titles, and it's been treated well. Adelheid, meanwhile, is in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Vláčil's first color film has a drab appearance that is respected on the disc. There are no real concerns with the transfer. All three features have restored original mono tracks primarily in Czech. (Adelheid is partially in German.) Dialogue is generally heard cleanly and the audio overall on these films is never less than sufficient. They also come with optional English subtitles that were new and improved for the individual releases.

Being such a recent film, Sentiment might be expected to look a certain way but it's really just a few notches above satisfactory. This would seem to be a result of the production rather than this transfer. The 2.35:1 image is anamorphic and doesn't show damage. It isn't the most crisp looking movie and the monochromatic palette tends to be obscuring. The transfer is progressive, as are all of the films in the set. Two audio options are included for Sentiment, both in Czech. One is a 2.0 stereo track while the other is a Dolby Digital 5.1 offering. Differences seem fairly minimal. Optional subtitles are provided, white in color, though they do not cover the pieces of dialogue taken from Vláčil's films.

Only booklets can be found for supplements, and Sentiment is without even one of those. All three of the Vláčil films have inserts with essays written by Peter Hames.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

9

out of 10

Last updated: 18/06/2018 21:29:47

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