Adelheid may lack the flights of black-and-white brilliance that their barbaric medievalism accommodates, but František Vláčil’s first color film is superior to his Markéta Lazarová (1966) and Valley of the Bees (1967). It probes how war’s aftermath warps lives by the psychological and moral toll that war continues to take. Peace, it turns out, is at best the illusion of peace.
A stranger in his homeland, a quiet, weary young Czech lieutenant becomes caretaker of an estate. The house had belonged to a Jewish family; subsequently it was taken over by the regional leader of the occupation and his family. Now the German officer is a prisoner of his former captives, and his daughter has been reduced to providing domestic help. In turn, both Germans, along with their son and brother, will die—but not before the lieutenant has a love affair with the young woman, Adelheid. Their relationship appears mutual, springing from loneliness and loss; but, from her perspective, Adelheid is simply obeying one more Czech who treats her like a whore.
Lieutenant Chotovický may be acting out the memory of love, or perhaps a fantasy, because his war experience has robbed other experiences of substance, attaching their hollowness to his desire for reconnection to the fuller reality from before the war. We note that Adelheid isn’t interested when Viktor Chotovický reminisces about his pre-war family life. She has her own memories, but, lacking a victor’s authority, she cannot give them voice. Indeed, Viktor’s home memories do not appear to be an attempt to communicate and share. Rather, in Adelheid’s presence he is talking aloud to himself. Unbeknownst to himself, Viktor is no longer fully human. Making the point: his becoming soaked in blood when he slips into a pool of it of somebody else’s making.
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