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Barbora Hlavsová


Barbora Hlavsová is Frič’s fiftieth sound film. It is based on Jaroslav Havlíček’s film story Glass Hill. The author sent it to a film studio and thus entered the competition for the best story. Karel Steklý adapted it into a script. At first, let us have a brief look at film plot:

Vojtěch Hlavsa, head of a provincial savings bank, embezzles money because of his profligate and spoiled wife Klára. The crime is revealed during an inspection and desperate Hlavsa shoots himself. His mother Barbora Hlavsová, a modest village woman, takes her widowed daughter-in-law and her teen-age grandson Bořík to her farm under the condition that they earn enough money by means of their common work and thus pay back the embezzled sum. Rural labour is real suffering for the city lady and her son. Both of them leave the old woman – Klára remarries and Bořík, a talented pianist, follows his dream about artistic career. However, Barbora Hlavsová endures and she manages to pay back her son’s debt and thus clears name of their family. Bořík eventually realizes his mistake and remorsefully returns to his grandmother.

When compared to the literary model, one of the most striking changes is the fact that Vojtěch Hlavsa of the story holds office of a retirement officer, however, Vojtěch Hlavsa of the film is head of a provincial savings bank. Bořík, originally a law student, was in screenplay changed into a talented pianist. Also the end of the film is modified – Barbora Hlavsová of the original dies and Bořík takes office of his father.

Martin Frič was attracted especially by the main character of Barbora Hlavsová; in the film this character was played by Terezie Brzková. She was a modest village woman who experienced nothing else but hard labour in her life. Warm-hearted old woman who offers good advice to everyone and who draws her wisdom from traditions is kind of a symbol of folk resilience. Brzková played a very similar character of grandmother already in 1940, in a film directed by František Čáp. In her both roles she uses similar dramatic means abandoning expressive gestures and emotions, emphasizing her face.

Vojtěch Hlavsa, her only son, who smeared name of his family, was played by František Smolík. He is that kind of man who strenuously strives for satisfying his wife and thus is regularly committing embezzlement. His spoiled wife Klára was played by Jiřina Štěpničková. Her son Bořík was played by Rudolf Hrušínský.

Contrast between the country and provincial town in which Hlavsa’s family lives is obvious throughout the film. There is no luxury at Barbora Hlavsová’s farm, while Hlavsa’a flat is crowded with furniture and various accessories. In the provincial town citizens enjoy observing others very much . The inspection itself was in fact conducted because of jealousy of others, especially of barber Kvěcha (Vladimír Řepa) who watches the others through his own shop-window and spreads various scandals in his barbershop.

The distinctive film scenes are represented by countryside shots made by Karel Degl. Long shots were intended to emphasize beauty of the country and feeling of certain freedom. The nature is at the same time an enemy which Barbora Hlavsová, her mother-in-law and son must struggle with when trying to cultivate infertile mountain soil. All their hard work can be completely destroyed by a mere storm.

Interior shots were filmed by Jaroslav Blažek. His work with light is most apparent: Vojtěch Hlavsa’s frightened face looks like a spectre when coming to beg his mother for forgiveness, shadows create a striped pattern on the floor, the stairs Hlavsa is going on when hiding from policemen are illuminated from under. The whole expressionist atmosphere of these shots highlights Hlavsa’a hopeless and desperate perception of the situation.

“Music that made the Czech culture famous was one of the most significant national symbols.”1 Music of Czech greats was used in many films; in some of those it even accompanies shots of Czech landscape. Leitmotif of Barbora Hlavsová is When Me My Old Mother composed by Antonín Dvořák. This melody is playing when we first encounter Barbora Hlavsová and we can also hear it when Bořík realizes how badly he behaved towards his grandma and he returns to her.

Despite national subject matter, which is very obvious throughout the film, several humorous scenes are included. Camera captures members of the executive board waiting for retired Žanta who is supposed to bring Vojtěch Hlavsa with him. Each member spends  his leisure time in his own way – nails filing, sleeping on the table. Another scene captures Eliška who is so happy to see Bořík that she stops following the way, stumbles and spills out a back basket full of wooden products that she carries to a market. There are also scenes in which Bořík runs after Barbora, and as he briskly jumps over hillocks, the spectators are worried whether he manages to stop in front of his grandma or not.

The Nation for Itself

Barbora Hlavsová ranks among films with national defence theme. It was about “return to national traditions that could have been considered a certain anti-German opposition and at the same time it was not in any contradiction with fascist ideology when celebrating hard work, humility and relationship towards native soil.”2 Such films included signs referring to Czech nation tradition, no matter whether it was a literary classic, music or beauties of landscape; for instance The Grandmother (František Čáp, 1940), Musicians’ Girl (Martin Frič, 1940), The Incendiary’s Daughter (Vladimír Borský, 1941), The Old Dad Bezoušek (Jiří Slavíček, 1941) and many others.

As indicated above, Barbora Hlavsová celebrates especially work and resilience of a Czech man persisting with his effort. Similarly, Barbora drudged so that she could pay back her son’s debt and thus save her family’s honour. Traditions related to countryside are emphasized which brings about shots of nature.

Czech Film of Protectorate

Führer’s and Reich chancellor proclamation about Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was issued on the 16th of March 1939; according to the proclamation, the occupation was necessary because of need for establishing order in the territory tossing about national conflicts. The Protectorate became a part of the Reich.3 Although Adolf Hitler promised cultural autonomy to the Protectorate population, early hopes soon faded away.

Best examples of German’s changed attitudes towards Czech culture are Joseph Goebbels’ two diary entries – March 1939: “We will leave Czech culture to its destiny. We will take care only of German culture.” He changed his standpoint in October 1941: “The Czech have no right to their own cultural life whatsoever, because this freedom would be further misused and attack German Reich.” ((Ibid, p. 82.)) Nazi wanted to gradually devour Czech cinematography by German. Protectorate was supposed to be a distributive field of German films and in the course of time films should have been made there as well.

“23 Czech filmmakers, who made 114 films, were contributing to cinematography in time of Protectorate. Miroslav Cikán, František Čáp, Martin Frič, J. A. Holman, Vladimír Slavínský and Otakar Vávra rank among the most significant directors of that time.“4 Czech most productive Protectorate director was Martin Frič. In time of occupation he made eighteen Czech films and two German ones. He was oriented especially towards undemanding genre of social and historical comedies – Kristian, Eva Fools Around and Catacombs. He introduced then unusual genre of parody in The Hard Life of an Adventurer. Besides comedies he also adapted K. M. Čapek-Chod’s novel The Experiment. Films dealing with national subject matter include Musician’s Girl and Barbora Hlavsová.

Period Responses

Period responses to Frič’s film are mostly positive. The fact that the film was accepted in such positive way is caused mainly by the time of its origin and by its subject matter. During the period of Protectorate and oppression of the Czech nation, such films as Barbora Hlavsová were exalted for celebration of traditional values.

Articles in People’s News and in Kinorevue coincidently appreciate Barbora Hlavsová as an excellent film. People’s News, 22nd of January, 1943: “Lively storyline, psychological and logical competence, sense for atmosphere as well as detailed description of provincial types and destinies are brought together with Frič’s artistic sense and feeling for landscape skylines and secluded places, originality of submontane surroundings and they completely overshadow several slight errors.” Concerning performance, Terezie Brzková’s character was highlighted: “she created a dignified, modest character of extremely honest woman by means of moderation and civility. When she receives Job gen news about her son’s embezzlement, daughter-in-law’s and later even grandson’s escape, her expression seems to be threatened by monotony. But despite her ‘manliness’ she still remains touchingly human and convincing just because of this simplicity.5

Kinorevue mostly admires young Hrušínský, who “is a great actor with innate talent (we do not use these words abundantly), extremely authentic actor who is able to express the most complicated and divergent mental conditions only by means of his eyes.” Besides actors, the reviewers notice also formal style. “The pavement was filmed not because it was an interesting shot, but because it was the place Hlavsa was looking at. In a big scene in which Hlavsa gets to know about the inspection, only his back is shown, however, power of his inner shock is obvious.”6

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  1. KAŠPAR, Lukáš: Český hraný film a filmaři za protektorátu. Praha: Libri, 2007, p. 295. []
  2. Ibid, p. 283. []
  3. Ibid, p.  81. []
  4. Ibid, p. 90 []
  5. Jka. Opravdové filmové drama, Barbora Hlavsová. Lidové noviny 51, 22. 1. 1943, č. 20, p. 7. []
  6. RÁDL, Bedřich: První český film roku: Barbora Hlavsová. Kinorevue 9, 1943, n. 14, p. 107, 111. []


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