František Vláčil

About film

Having premièred on 6 April 1970, Adelheid is nevertheless an integral part of Czechoslovak filmmaking of the 1960s – in its subject matter and adaptation, as well as its treatment of a historical theme. At the same time, the film caps and concludes the period of František Vláčil’s work marked by relative freedom – a decade opened by the director with his 1960 poetic drama The White Dove (Holubice).

In The Devil’s Trap (Ďáblova past, 1961), Valley of the Bees (Údolí včel) and Marketa Lazarová (both 1967), Vláčil focused on themes from older Czech history (18th century, Middle Ages) whereas in Adelheid, he returned to what was then the recent past. In his choice of historical themes, Vláčil was indisputably influenced by the author of the respective works of literature, Vladimír Körner: after Valley of the Bees and Adelheid (which was made based on a novella inspired by a film synopsis not authorized for realization in the mid-1960s), Vláčil and the cinematographer František Ulrich intended to make into a film Kröner’s short story Revelation on the Mother of God according to Saint John (Zjevení o ženě rodičce podle svatého Jana). Körner wrote this dark story of a Tatar invasion of Bohemia immediately after the Soviet invasion of August 1968 – and it was the consequences of the occupation that interrupted the adaptation process of Revelation. In protest against it, Vláčil returned his Communist party membership card. (We also „owe“ the visually striking, dark atmosphere of Adelheid to the infamous crushing of the Prague Spring, due to which the shooting was postponed from the end of summer to autumn and winter.)

As a result, the ideologically unreliable Vláčil was not allowed to direct his next feature film – Smoke on the Potato Fields (Dým bramborové natě) – until 1976. The director once again cooperated with Vladimír Körner for the medium-length children’s film Sirius (1974) and the Čapekesque Shades of Fern (Stín kapradiny, 1984). Vláčil returned to the immediate post-war period with his Shadows of a Hot Summer (Stíny horkého léta, 1977) and The Little Shepherd Boy from the Valley (Pasáček z doliny, 1983); however, in these films his views were limited by the ideological demands on dramaturgy of the time and shaped by other authors – Jiří Křižan and Ladislav Fuks. Based on his own story taking part in a similar space-time, Körner wrote a screenplay for End of the Lonely Farm Berghof (Zánik samoty Berhof), directed by Jiří Svoboda in 1983.

In Adelheid, the then 43-year-old Vláčil and 30-year-old Körner were more interested in the relationship of the two main heroes than in the context of the time. After Valley of the Bees and Marketa Lazarová, this is yet another tragic love story typical of Vláčil driven „by the conflict of dogma and life“[1] and the hero’s longing to find a replacement for the dead home fires. The misunderstanding between the former Czech member of the foreign resistance movement Viktor Chotovický (Petr Čepek) and the German Adelheid Heidenmann (Emma Černá), though, also stems from the conflict of desire and incompatibility. A short annotation in Film a doba[2] quotes Vláčil himself, who said that the protagonists „weren’t able to communicate as they didn’t know the language. But they couldn’t have communicated had they know it either, as they were like two sides of the same coin.“

A tired and traumatized war hero, Viktor lacks constructive enthusiasm and patriotic eagerness against the beaten enemy. In a remote corner of the North Moravian borderland, he is looking for a replacement for his destroyed home, assuming he has found it in the house of a former Nazi and with his daughter. Marie Mravcová[3] sees a balladic tone in their relationship, mainly due to the fact that Viktor as a Czech goes beyond the moral standard of the time by showing love to a German woman. However in the end – as mentioned by Vláčil himself[4] – Viktor actually kills Adelheid, and with her his hope for a future. The hopeless message would have had a different tone could the final shot of the cross have resonated with a German priest in the church; this scene was in the screenplay and, according to Petr Gajdošík, it was probably even shot.[5]

In Kröner’s original synopsis of Adelheid from the mid-1960s, the inhabitants of the borderland village played a greater role – but a different one than in previous Czech films dealing with the period. Jiří Krejčík’s Border Village (Ves v pohraničí, 1948) and Otakar Vávra’s Arrival (Nástup, 1952) had a standardized background and goal-directed ideological schemes. Even though already Jiří Weiss’s The Stolen Border (Uloupená hranice, 1947) and Martin Frič’s Return Home (Návrat domů, 1948) presented a more realistic perspective on the post-war events, as late as in the mid-1960s Körner heard, in relation to his synopsis, that „the time is not yet ripe for settling accounts and reassessing the expulsion of Germans“.[6] In spite of this, the Czechoslovak New Wave authors felt the urge to modify the view of the victors, such as for instance in Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos’s Death Is Called Engelchen (Smrt si říká Engelchen, 1963) or in Jan Procházka’s radical views in (Long Live the Republic [Ať žije republika, 1965], Carriage to Vienna [Kočár do Vídně, 1966]), to which their director Karel Kachyňa added The Little Sugar House (Cukrová bouda, 1980), conforming to the normalization period.

The fact that official critics didn’t want to and couldn’t understand the relativisation and revision of the ideological canon of the time can for instance be seen in a review of Adelheid by Jiří Hrbas, a critic of the Rudé právo daily.[7] He criticizes Vláčil (and the Barrandov Studio dramaturgy, for that matter) for making the story of the heroes disconnected from the time and society, and for failing to move audiences, leaving them embarrassed instead.

Probably without embarrassment, we can see the relationship of the heroes in Adelheid as a direct reflection of the time the film was made in – also thanks to other „Sudetenland“ films. Juraj Herz’s Habermann (Habermannův mlýn, 2010) and Jiří Chlumský’s Seven Days of Sin (7 dní hříchů, 2012) try to illustrate the shortcoming of the Czech national character through the stories of individuals. Across the spectrum of nations and political parties, what prevails is greed and selfishness, moving private animosity, jealousy and revenge to the level of political vengeance. In the new „Sudetenland“ opuses, trust in any ideology or political power is indeed paving the same road to hell as their cynical abuse.

Alena Prokopová

Adelheid (Czechoslovakia, 1969), director: František Vláčil, screenplay: Vladimír Körner and František Vláčil, director of photography: František Uldrich, music: Zdeněk Liška, editor: Miroslav Hájek, cast: Petr Čepek, Emma Černá, Jan Vostrčil, Pavel Landovský, Jana Krupičková et al. Filmové studio Barrandov, 99 min.


[1] Fiala, Miloš, Vláčil, Körner, Adelheid. Film a doba, 1969, No. 12, pp. 642–645.

[2] Körner – Vláčil – Uldrich, Adelheid. Film a doba 1969, No. 4, p. 213.

[3] Mravcová, Marie, Vladimír Körner: Adelheid. Česká literatura 1945–1970, Praha: Státní pedagogické nakladatelství, 1992.

[4] Körner – Vláčil – Uldrich, Adelheid. Film a doba 1969, No. 4, p. 213.

[5] Gajdošík, Petr, Adelheid, DVD review (Bontonfilm),

[6] Körner – Vláčil – Uldrich, Adelheid. Film a doba 1969, No. 4, p. 213.

[7] Hrbas, Jiří, Adelheid Františka Vláčila. Rudé právo, 1970, No. 31, p. 5.


“With his feeling for inner atmosphere of the story, Vláčil explores the relationship of the main heroes, reveals their secrets and gradually stacks everything which eventually forms the inner world of the film. Excellent is his portrayal of the chateau which literally plays with the actors (we need to praise Uldrich’s colour photography emphasizing the emotional composition of the film), Petr Čepek is very precise in his role, Ema Černá’s performance as Adelheid is surprisingly excellent, great are also Jan Ostrčil, discovered by Forman, as sergeant Hejna and Pavel Landovský as the guardsman. Impressions from the first screening of Adelheid can be summed up in one sentence: it is a success for František Vláčil and one of the most remarkable Czech films we saw in the recent months.”

Miloš Fiala, Kino 24, 1969, no. 22, p. 7.


„As far as the dramatic structure of characters and their conflicts, Adelheid is so far Vláčil’s most compact work and with its contemplation on the danger of gradual alienation of people in the modern world full of violence and hate, it belongs to the most topical films of our cinema released in the last two decades.”

Pavel Melounek, Film a doba 27, 1987, no. 7, p. 404.