Frantisek Vlácil – Stíny horkého léta aka Shadows of a Hot Summer (1978)
Once more, Vlacil’s films are largely about subjects that are not seen on screen. With some spoilers, here we have a story set in 1947 when Ukrainian right-wing anti-Communist guerillas, looking like and feeling like Nazi’s, are trying to fight their way through Czechoslovakia to Austria. They come out of the forest to occupy a family’s countryside farm house, kidnapping a doctor to help heal one of their wounded, but this could just as easily be about the post-war occupying forces in Eastern Europe, or the occupying Soviet forces in the 60’s, as there is an initial belief that there is nothing anyone can do, or to coin a STAR TREK phrase, `Resistance is futile.’ The film has a very languid pace which establishes the mood and pace of this small village, much of it is wordless, with a Sergio Leone acid-western feel, easily the most outstanding feature is the original music by Zdenek Liska, which plays on the inner psychological turmoil, providing an unseen character in the film. The father gives the appearance of passivity, as he is outmanned and outgunned, while his eager young son wants a taste of immediate revenge. But a wiser course of action is called for, waiting, giving the impression he is yielding to their demands, as the father wants to protect the lives of his wife and children, which allows for large doses of screen time where various family members are performing daily farm chores, just trying to survive this ordeal, while interspersed in each frame are men with machine guns who sadistically threaten their every impulse. This farmhouse under occupation represents a country under occupation, all feel like helpless victims where every moment is spent in fear, any minute things could spin helplessly out of control, and this film skillfully gets under everyone’s skin.
Although Vláèil was temperamentally drawn to historical reconstruction, his films were always intended, he said, as a dialogue with his own times. His themes can be summarised as reflecting the human distortions caused by cultural and ideological conflict. The historical themes of East vs West, Christianity vs paganism, and Czechs vs Germans could easily find their parallels in more contemporary ideological conflicts. The invading Ukrainian guerrillas in Stíny horkého léta (Shadows of a Hot Summer, 1977), where a Moravian farmer defends his home against occupation, were even interpreted as standing for the Warsaw Pact armies that invaded Czechoslovakia during the suppression of the Prague Spring of 1968.