Thursday, March 3, 2011

Larks on a String

Skřivánci na niti; Satire, Czech Republic, 1969; D: Jiří Menzel, S: Rudolf Hrusínský, Vlastimil Brodský, Václav Neckár, Jitka Zelenohorská, Jaroslav Satoransky

Czechoslovakia. The government gathers numerous "spoiled bourgeois" individuals and sends them working on a junkyard in order to "correct" their attitude: among them a professor, a public prosecutor, a saxophonist, a baker and even a milkman. The men and women work in two separate groups, collecting scrap metal in order to melt it into steel. The professor likes to philosophize and entertain them. When he and the milkman refuse to cooperate with an educational group of young kids, they are banished. When a high ranking official visits the area, the young lad asks where they disappeared. As a punishment, even though he was just recently married to Jitka, the young lad is sent with others to go working in an underground mine.

Bohumil Hrabal wrote numerous satirical short stories which seized the attention and admiration of director Jiri Menzel. When the censorship of the pseudo-communist government loosened up a bit, Menzel managed to film this distant and abstract, but strongly allegorical satire which was immediately banned when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in '68, until the movie was finally brought out of the bunker and premiered 22 years later in Berlin. "Larks on a String" features nameless protagonists working forcefully in a junkyard to emphasize its message of the (de facto Czechoslovakian) regime that is insanely pushing intellectuals to "out of place" hard-labor jobs in order to "correct" their independent thinking. The best ingredients of the film manifest through humorous dialogues that shine with ease, like when two protagonists argue over whether they heard news reporting on Iran or Iraq ("A fool or a jerk is one and the same, but there is a huge difference between Iraq and Iran!") or when one of them exaggerates about his fish ("I wanted to warm up their water, but I accidentally cooked them."), yet the sparse humor and the allegorical mood deliberately turned it more towards the artificial than it could and should have been, even when the clever touch is felt throughout.


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