Friday, April 12, 2013

Larks on a String (1969)

Larks on a String •
Larks on a String • Skřivánci na niti (1969)
Czech New Wave
Genre: ComedyDrama
Director: Jiří Menzel
Starring:  Rudolf Hrušínský, Václav Neckář, Jitka Zelenohorská, Vladimír Ptáček, Naďa Urbánková, Vlastimil Brodský
Language: Czech
Duration: 94 min.
Rating: 8.6
Summary:
In 1950s Czechoslovakia, a group of workers comprised of political dissidents and former bourgeois are 'voluntarily employed' in a scrapyard for the purposes of re-education.
Larks on a String is a film from the Czechoslovak New Wave directed by Jiří Menzel, adapted from selected short stories from the book Advertisement for a House I do not Want to Live in Anymore (Inzerát na dům, ve kterém už nechci bydlet) by Bohumil Hrabal. It was completed in 1969 and was immediately banned by the Communist regime before it could be screened. It finally had its premiere after the fall of Communism, screening at the 1990 Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Golden Bear ex aequo with Music Box by Costa-Gavras.

It is the third of six collaborations between Menzel and Hrabal, who previously worked together on the Academy Award winner Closely Watched Trains (1966), and the short-film anthology Pearls of the Deep (1966); and it's a brilliant, poetic, romantic, and sarcastic gem, full of all the humanity and hilarity that I've come to expect from Czech cinema.

Larks on a String •

Set mostly in a scrap-metal yard turned into a forced labor camp where various citizens are sent to work for re-education, the film follows a small group of characters who are there either for being part of the former bourgeoisie or for counter-revolutionary behavior. The men and women are separated and forbidden from contact, partitioned by a makeshift fence and watched over by a surprisingly well mannered guard (Jaroslav Satoranský), while they go about their days philosophizing and flirting, haphazardly working, and generally making the most of their situation despite the shadow of a grim and uncertain future which awaits them.

The film was shot by Menzel's regular cinematographer Jaromír Šofr, in a rare example of color photography from this era, but it is a decision that works very well. Here Šofr uses color to highlight the contrast between the outwardly grey and dreary backdrop of the yard, and the richly vivid prisoners (among them, Václav Neckář and Jitka Zelenohorská from Closely Watched Trains) caged within.

Larks on a String •

Menzel and Hrabal's wonderful screenplay balances its darkness and scathing satire (at the center of it, a masterful villainous performance from Rudolf Hrušínský, as the yard's overseer), with liberal sprinklings of lighthearted comedy and romance. All fused with some incredible visual poetry: piles of discarded typewriters and broken crucifixes; a bride in her white dress covered in red wine; and the film's most powerful sequence: with the guard absent, the men and women get together and stand around an oil-drum campfire to warm their hands in the rain, and rather than punish them upon his return, he walks up and joins them.

Because of some abrupt editing, and a story that isn't centered on any single plot-line, Larks doesn't quite match the same level of universal appeal as Trains had with its well focused charm and sensuality. However, it's still a remarkable picture that easily stands among the best of the Czechoslovak New Wave. This was a daring work with a direct political message, and it's amazing that the creators got away with it at all. But, even if you were to judge it without the political baggage or its subsequent censorship, it can be seen as an intelligent and accomplished example of style and lyricism. Breathtakingly beautiful and bittersweet.
Bonjour Tristesse
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10 comments:

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks for highlighting this film, the praise and rating you give it certainly has me intrigued. I saw Daisies (1966) the other day and was impressed by the filmmaking.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I loved this film ... One of my favourites from the Czech new wave. This is so intelligent, so rich and so beautiful. I agree that it's amazing it was allowed to be made at the time. Great review BT.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

A film that was banned is always interesting to watch because it is often audacious and original!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I really want to see this one though. Maybe that video didn't have any comedy, or maybe I'm just not used to the comedy of this era, but I found it so easy to watch. Didn't want it to end.

The subtitles might help me a little, but still. The reactions between one another.. wow. This one's on the list.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Nice. I look forward to your upcoming capsule review of Daisies.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Lisa. I'm more amazed that no one 'mysteriously disappeared' after making this film.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah this one does fit that description. There are a couple very controversial moments in here to look out for.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

The editing in that clip leans towards a more melancholy feel, but the actual film is very well balanced. Do check it out if you get the chance.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I am really interested in this film for the history just as much as for what it's about. What an interesting story both from the movie and it's banning. Great review.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Many titles from this era were banned by the censors. Some of them for hardly any reason at all. But this one was a clear middle finger to the authorities which does make it a bit more interesting in that light.

This title was released by Second Run DVD, so it should be easy to get a hold of if you want to check it out.

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