wed 20/03/2019

DVD: Larks on a String | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Larks on a String

DVD: Larks on a String

A classic of the Czech New Wave deliciously pokes fun at the Party all over again

What larks: Václav Neckár and Jitka Zelenohorská play political prisoners in love in 'Larks on a String'

The Czech New Wave sprouted out of a fertile collaboration between film and fiction. Milan Kundera started out as a lecturer in film, lest we forget; one of his pupils was Miloš Forman. Both flew the communist nest to live and create abroad, which is why their names reverberate down the decades much more than those of the director Jiří Menzel and novelist Bohumil Hrabal, whose collaboration on Closely Watched Trains won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1967. They followed it with the delightful Larks on a String but, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia having put an end to the Prague Spring by the time it was ready for release, it didn't surface until the Berlin Film Festival in 1990, only months after the Velvet Revolution swept the old regime bloodlessly into the dustbin of history.

You can see why the Party wouldn’t have got the joke. Unlike its predecessor, set in a railway station in the time of the Nazi Protectorate, Larks on a String turns its satirical guns on the gang of dogma-spouting kleptocrats currently in power. It is set, somewhat unsubtly, in a huge brutalist industrial dump where male and female prisoners work in segregated proximity. “This era will smelt you down,” says the besuited party inspector to the politically degenerate male prisoners, among them a jazz musician, a writer, a believer in God and an old-fashioned bourgeois; the female prisoners, whose innate goodness finds an outward semaphore in their unfeasible prettiness, are all attempted defectors.

The joke is that the prisoners – the larks on a string - are the ones who are truly free in mind and pure of heart despite the shackles placed on their movement and their lack of sexual opportunity. The bossy young prison guard gets married, by contrast, to a woman whom he can't persuade to sleep with him. The two youngest prisoners, meanwhile, fall innocently in love, and are allowed to marry, and will not let their spirits be crushed even if it's by proxy and the bride's stand-in is a wizened pensioner.

Hrabal, as ever, is a Svejkian scribe of the bierkeller, an unfettered, generous, ribald entertainer. Menzel also rejoices in absurdist sight gags - such as the two men who are accidentially whitewashed when a wall is being painted for the visit of a bigwig - while never soft-pedalling the melancholy necessity of putting hope on hold. Films attacking long-dead regimes can acquire a sepia tint but this wonderfully robust snapshot, realised with the help of a typically boisterous Czech cast, is much more than a curio from history.

Hrabal is a Svejkian scribe of the bierkeller, an unfettered, generous, ribald entertainer

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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