Václav Vorlíček, director of one of the most iconic Czech films ever made and known as the ‘master of the Czech fairy tale’, passed away in Prague earlier this week. He was 88.
Vorlíček was born in the Czech capital in 1930, and would go on to study directing at Prague film academy FAMU in the early 1950s.
After making his feature debut in 1960, Vorlíček would achieve international recognition and enduring local popularity with his slapstick 60s-era sci-fi comedies Kdo chce zabít Jessii? (Who Wants to Kill Jesse?), Konec agenta W4C prostřednictvím psa pana Foustky (The End of Agent W4C), and “Pane, vy jste vdova!” (You Are a Widow, Sir). Kdo chce zabít Jessii? was honored at the 1966 Locarno International Film Festival.
While other Czech New Wave filmmakers like Miloš Forman and Ivan Passer fled Czechoslovakia following the Warsaw Pact invasion of the country, Vorlíček would remain in the country and achieve his greatest success under strict communist oversight in the early 1970s.
After turning to the realm of Czech fairy tales with Dívka na koštěti (Girl on a Broomstick) in 1971, Vorlíček helmed what may the the most popular Czech movie ever made two years later.
Tří oříšků pro Popelku (Three Nuts for Cinderella) may not be well-known in the English-speaking world, but it’s one of the most popular Czech films both within the Czech Republic and throughout many European countries; almost five centuries after it was filmed, Tří oříšků pro Popelku is still broadcast every year at Christmas on Czech Television and throughout Germany and Scandanavia.
The film would set the course for Vorlíček’s future work, and the director would follow it up during the 1970s with popular fairy tales including Princ a Večernice (The Prince and the Evening Star), Jak se budí princezny, and the beloved TV miniseries Arabela, and with sci-fi comedies Což takhle dát si špenát (How About a Plate of Spinach?) and Jak utopit Dr. Mráčka aneb Konec vodníků v Čechách (How to Drown Dr. Mracek, the Lawyer).
Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, Vorlíček would continue to work on films in the fairy tale realm, including some German co-productions, but he never replicated the success of Tří oříšků pro Popelku. The director’s final film was the poorly-received 2011 fairy tale Saxána a Lexikon kouzel (Little Witch on a Broomstick), a sequel to his earlier Dívka na koštěti.
According to local media reports, Václav Vorlíček passed away at Prague hospital Nemocnice pod Petřínem on February 5 due to lung cancer.
Miloš Macourek, Vorlíček’s longtime writing partner who penned Kdo chce zabít Jessii? and many of the director’s subsequent features, passed away in 2002 at the age of 75.
Lead image: Libuše Šafránková in Tři oříšky pro Popelku via Barrandov Studios / Václav Vorlíček at 2010 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival via Petr Novák, Wikipedia