The 1970s were a difficult time for the director František Vláčil: the artist, who made an indelible mark on the previous decade with the historical films Marketa Lazarová, Údolí včel (The Valley of the Bees) (both 1967) and Adelheid (1969), only got another opportunity to make a feature film in 1976. However, Vláčil and his screenwriter Václav Nývlt managed to rework the “recommended” original book, Doktor Meluzín by Bohumil Řiha, to such an extent that it resulted in a movie which was qualitatively far beyond the productions of that time. The authors used only the final part of the adapted novel, which is a typical example of biased literature. Moreover, Vláčil’s first feature set in contemporary times has the same balladic qualities that were typical of the director’s historical opuses. The protagonist – a reputable old Prague physician called Meluzín – has to content himself with a post as a “country doctor” after his wife emigrates. In the local health centre, he meets with hostility and incomprehension, but his expertise and humane approach win him the respect of his doubtful new colleagues and mistrusting patients… The ideological tone of the original book gives way to an introspective story about a successful, aging specialist who has to re-evaluate his life and embrace nature as well as the human aspect of his profession. Rudolf Hrušínský, who was politically inconvenient at the time, excels in the film’s starring role. He had been rigorously backed for the lead role by František Vláčil. The casting of the other parts also demonstrated the director’s eye for actors who could give their characters a visceral authenticity. A good example of this is Věra Galatíková (Pavla Kodetová), who had already played in Vláčil’s The Valley of the Bees. The theme of a man’s melancholic, but fruitful, later years is emphasised by the impressive camerawork of František Uldrich and the music of the experienced composer Zdeněk Liška.
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