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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If there is something, for which the citizens of the Czech republic
should thank the communist regime, then it is the regular support of
film production. Otakar Vávra's Hussite trilogy, with its enormous
budget of 25 million crowns, may have been the most expensive film
project that has ever been made in the country. And it is very pleasing
to say that these money were invested very well.
The trilogy was (very freely) based on the novels of Alois Jirásek, who connected documented historical anecdotes via the life stories of his fictional heroes. So, on the background of historical events, we can also watch fates of ordinary peasants, craftsmen and yeomen.
The first part of the trilogy (JAN HUS) deals with the final years of the life of Jan Hus (1412-1415), from the upheaval in 1412 that led to an irreconcilable conflict between Hus and the king Václav IV., to Hus' death at the stake in Constance. The second part (JAN ZIZKA) starts in the summer 1419, when the open revolt in Prague (the first Prague defenestration) started the Hussite revolution, and ends in March 1420 near Sudomer, where the first regular battle of the Hussite wars took place. The third part (PROTI VSEM) covers the period between early spring-early summer 1420, and is closed by the victorious battle on Vitkov.
It is interesting to note that the movies were gradually getting better and better, and PROTI VSEM is undoubtedly the best. Its battle scenes easily match everything that was made in the world at that time (and even many decades later) and are accompanied by a brilliant score of Zdenek Srnka.
In contrast with what usually observed in the Hollywood production, the Hussite trilogy doesn't deviate much from real historical facts, although it is true that it contains some minor "literary license". Curiously, some Czech critics denounce it as a sort of "communist propaganda", despite the fact that this "propaganda" is based on real contemporary writings that contained a strong social appeal. The character of the Hussite movement was very similar to the communist one. That's all.
Actors' performances are noticeably theatrical, but the pathos is certainly tolerable, and overall, the cast is excellent, led by charismatic Zdenek Stepanek (who performed both Jan Hus and Jan Zizka). Someone could perhaps argue that the main figures tend to be portrayed in black and white, and that the movies are filled by ostentatious nationalism, but it must be taken into consideration, when this project was made (only a decade after World War II).
In summary, although these movies are not 100% perfect (hardly any movie is), they certainly stand out as one of the best historical film projects of the period, and still can be regarded as one of the best medieval movies ever made. Personally I think that this work of Otakar Vávra would deserve to be much better known abroad, which, fortunately, is already largely accomplished by the power of YouTube.
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