At the Barbican, Sunday 28th October, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the declaration of the Czech Republic, a rare screening of the film Svatý Václav (St Wenceslaus), patron saint of Bohemia. The film was a grand scale spectacular, planned to mark the 1000th anniversary of the assassination of the King on 28th September 935. Hence two national holidays 28th September and 28th October. Given that the saintly King Vaclav symbolizes Czech identity in so many ways why did the film fall into obscurity, only to be revived fairly recently ? It's not easily available to buy, so catch the 2010 screening in Prague (no translation -you have to pay attention !) with the original orchestral score by Oskar Nedbal and Jaroslav Křička,or go to the Barbican where it will be accompanied by singers and musicians from Cappella Mariana, the Prague-based early-music ensemble specialising in medieval polyphony.
Directed by Jan Stanislav Kolár, Svatý Václav is made in a cinematic style similar to Fritz Lang's saga Die Nibelung (1924) (Please read my summary here) so expect stylized acting and costumes, which in fact have their own non-naturalistic charm. This suits the treatment, part based on historical fact, part on legend, which, given what Vaclav means to the Czech nation, is even more potent. The film opens with a shot of a fortified castle on a hill : the home of King Bořivoj (played by the director himself) and Queen Ludmily who are baptised as Christians in 873. As we know from Lohengrin, Christianity was by no means a given in that era. While hunting in a forest, Prince Vratislav meets Drahomíra, who rides horses like a knight and throws spears like a hero. She's not a Christian but converts to marry him. When their son Vaclav is born, grandmother Ludmila snatches him away at birth and brings him up properly devout. Vaclav and his brother Boleslav and sister Přibyslava grow up happily in the castle, built like a stockade from whole logs from the surrounding forests. People dance, sing and trade with foreign merchants, but Vaclav likes praying before a cross of stone. Even when he's helping in the kitchen, the boy prays so fervently that he burns dinner. Not surprisngly Drahomíra, estranged from her children, plots revenge, and Ludmily is strangled to death, with her own scarf. When he hears of his grandmother's death, Vaclav goes into action against the pagans, banging a giant cymbal as a call to arms. Panoramic shots of knights lined up on ridges above the plains, scores of footsoldiers running through valleys, trumpeters blowing horns that look like mammoth tusks.
Please also see my other posts on cinema in this period, Czech and Weimar. For example:
Erotikon - the drama Janacek didn't write
The White Plague - Hugo and Pavel Haas
and lots more on Hugo Haas's later work