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Slovak Studies Program

Martin Votruba

 

Wolves' Lairs

 

 

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A sequence whose perception, like that of the whole film, has depended on social context. It appeared satisfyingly dressed up when Wolves' Lairs (Vlčie diery, dir. Paľo Bielik, 1948; available without subtitles in Hillman Library) was made. It became unacceptably true after the onset of communism. It looks understandably black-and-white today. In the clip, Marián (Ján Jamnický), commander of a resistance cell in Central and Western Europe's largest pro-democratic uprising during World War II, has decided to meet a platoon dispatched against the insurgents.
The sequence in the clip begins with a hint that the Slovak troops are against their mission to help quash the 1944 anti-totalitarian uprising – a shot shows two soldiers deserting the platoon. Upon meeting Marián, the platoon commander fails to issue any orders, the troops are enthused by Marián's speech, and all switch sides on the spot. The idealized scenario appeared nationally encouraging rather than dubitable merely 2-3 years after the cataclysm of the war as nations were taking early steps to sort out their recent pasts, but became quite unacceptable once the Communists took over, because it reminded people that the key ingredient in the massive uprising was the pro-democratic stance of segments of the Slovak Army, not the Communists.
Wolves' Lairs started a succession of films about the 1944 uprising in Slovakia, but because it was finished so early during the Communist Party’s drive to establish control, the film still managed to include “baddies” as well as “goodies” among both the Slovak insurgents and the German soldiers suppressing the uprising – something that did not get past the censors again for more than a decade. Regardless of how the theme of the uprising played out in politics, it absorbed and bolstered the broader motif of the freedom of the mountains recurrent in Slovak high culture, including in the popular Jánošík movies.
The degree of complexity in Wolves' Lairs displeased the Communists once they consolidated their power, as did the absence of Communist characters among the insurgents, which clashed with the newly mandated Socialist Realist take on the insurgency as organized solely by the Communists. The authorities then deemed that Wolves' Lairs carried “full-blown marks of bourgeois filmmaking and bourgeois nationalism” – a damning label applied by Prague to specifically Slovak-patriotic efforts that were not merely folkloric. Wolves' Lairs was added to the banned-films list in the 1950s.
As a director, Paľo Bielik (1910-1983), the star in Jánošík, leaned away from the folkloric style of the films in which he starred. The style of Wolves’ Lairs was inspired by early Italian neorealism.

 

Slovak cinema under early communism.

 

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