LARKS ON A STRING

Poland, 1969 (MIFF 1990)

Director: Jiri Menzel

A FULL 21 YEARS after it was made, Jiri Menzel's Larks on a String is finally off the shelf. Menzel's film, a courageous, bittersweet comedy of considerable charm and invention, is now being seen publicly for the first time and can be enjoyed at last.

The film was made at the end of the Golden Age of Czech cinema. In 1967 Menzel won an Academy Award for his first feature Closely Watched Trains. In 1968 at the height of Alexander Dubcek's so-called 'Prague Spring', Menzel's next film Capricious Summer won the Grand Prix at the Karlovy Vary Film Fest. Larks on a String went into production just as the Warsaw Pact invaded the country in August 1968 and, as soon as the film was finished, it was banned.

Menzel's heresy, and that of his writer, Bohumil Hrabal, was to satirise the "reeducation" of "bourgeois elements" in the early 50s, immediately after the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia.

Much of the film is set on a scrapheap close to heavily polluting factories: here, a small group of "bourgeois" types are forced to do manual labour. They include a former professor of philosophy, a former State prosecutor, a musician (he played the saxophone, a bourgeois instrument!), a milkman, hairdresser and a Jewish hotelier. They're overseen by a functionary with a working-class background (who does very little actual work).

Larks on a String was no doubt a very daring and provocative film to have been made in Czechoslovakia at that particular point in history. Menzel mocks the slogans of the 50's (banners with 2954-style messages like "We Will Surpass the. Norm" and the destructiveness of the era (hundreds of typewriters and crucifixes wind up on this symbolic scrapheap).

It took a long time for the truths in Menzel's film to be revealed to the outside world, but his anger at the destructive system imposed on his country is as valid as ever." - David Stratton, Variety, 19/2/90


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