February 19, 1924: Great Czech director František Vláčil is born 

František Vláčil

František Vláčil’s films Marketa Lazarová and The Valley of the Bees are considered masterpieces of Czech cinema. In 1998 he received a Crystal Globe award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema.

František Vláčil | Photo: © Barrandov Studio a.s.

His journey to cinema wasn’t a straightforward one. Vláčil, who was born in Český Těšín on February 19, 1924, first studied at the Academy of Arts and Crafts in Prague and then art history and aesthetics at Masaryk University in Brno. He was only introduced to filmmaking during his time in the army. He spent seven years there, during which he became a major, but also a director of propaganda films.

He made his first full-length film, Dove, in 1960. It received an award at the Venice IFF and instantly made Vláčil one of the most notable filmmakers of the so-called Czechoslovak New Wave. A year later, he released his second film, a historical balled called the The Devil's Trap.

The most important film of the century

Photo: Bonton

It was his third film, a black and white epic called Marketa Lazarová, that won him the greatest acclaim. The 1967 masterpiece telling the story of a kidnapping and pure love in the Middle Ages, starred the debuting Slovak actress Magda Vášáryová in the lead role, and took six years to complete.

The film was also very expensive and Vláčil was forced by the Barrandov Studios to make another historical film, The Valley of the Bees, which used the same decorations to partially repay the expenditures on Marketa Lazarová.

In 1969, Vláčil left the Communist Party in protest against the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia and as a result was only allowed to make short documentaries. He started drinking and suffered from depression.

'The Smoke on the Potato Fields' | Photo: Bonton

In 1976, he returned to filmmaking with a drama called The Smoke of the Potato Films. But none of his films from the 1970s and 80s reached the fame of his first films.

After the Velvet Revolution, Vláčil received a number of awards, including the Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema in 1998. He died a year later at the age of 74.

In 2013, he received in memoriam the Ministry of Culture Award for contribution to cinema and audio-visual art. His film Marketa Lazarová has been repeatedly voted the best Czech film ever made.