The Ear (Ucho) Review
Returning home from a governmental party, junior minister Ludvik (Radoslav Brzobohatý) and his inebriated wife, Anna (Jirina Bohdalová) have some trouble finding the keys to their dwelling. Ludvik is convinced Anna has once again lost them and his irritation takes little time to emerge - Anna, however, is not one to take such abuse and, aided and abetted by the alcohol in her, returns as good as she gets. After much verbal sniping, they manage to find a way into their own house but the electricity is off as is the phone line. Ludvik finds some matches and some candles as the couple continue their arguing. Ludvik, however, is reliving his evening in a series of flashbacks as a terrifying realisation is dawning on him - Anna, on the other, hand has started to drink Vodka from the bottle and won't shut up.
Banned for over 20 years, Ucho is still amazingly modern despite borrowing a lot from the film noir both visually and thematically. Flitting between the couple's darkened house and the blinding lights of the reception, a world of subtle dualisms and paradoxes unfolds. At the reception, we see their social sphere through Ludvik's eyes and we are left with no doubt the disdain he holds for the hypocrisy present in their conversations. The Leader arrives, dispenses a few platitudes and the crowd cry out for more. At home, the disdain can find its way out but mostly through Anna's loose tongue - Ludvik is growing paranoid at the recent dismissal of his immediate boss. Could he be next? Is the electricity shortage a prelude for a nightmare? The tension mounts throughout the night as events unfold and the paranoia sets in – with each extra minute, the knot tightens and you can’t help but be drawn in to the drama.
The co-author of the script, Jan Procházka, managed to end up on the wrong side of the regime he had once supported with this poisoned missive. Cancer ended his life only a year later so maybe he felt the need to kick in the face of the regime just before he passed away. As the other half of the tandem, Kachyna found his filmmaking restricted but still remained active under the communist regime but was never able to make such outspoken statements as Ucho until after 1989. There is something quite inexorable about the film that makes it quite startling in it's open-eyed awareness of the machinations at work - it can be subtle but also seems eager to make the audience comprehend how their liberty is being curtailed by those in power. A bit like Love, it manages to be unusually lyrical about appalling incidents and prove that art can flourish even in the most restricted environments.
Given that the film disappeared for decades on end, it is slightly unsurprising that the print that has been sourced is not in the best of states. There is a fair amount of speckle and graininess with one occasion of a few missing frames but overall it is very much watchable.
A crisp problem free mono - I didn't notice much in way of damage.
Removable, clear and gramatically correct. They can be slightly mistimed but globally keep up with the dialogue.
We get a very good introduction by Peter Hames who looks at the background of the film, its banning and subsequent revival and the difficulty the director and writer experienced after the release. Hames does give away too much of the plot for my liking so it's better to see this more as a conclusion rather than an introduction. There are also booklet notes by Jay Schneider which give an interesting analysis of the film along with a brief biography of the director.
Another excellent release from Second Run - a film I had only heard about receives a good UK release at a very good price. Another one to add to the shopping list.