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The Joke

Posted by martinteller on February 17, 2013

As a university student, Ludvik Jahn (Josef Somr) made an offhand remark on a postcard to his sweetheart, a jokey comment denigrating blind optimism in the Party.  She turns this postcard over to officials, and he’s drummed out of the Party, kicked out of school, and spends six years in the military, prison, and forced labor.  Years later, he sees on opportunity for revenge: seduce the wife (Jana Dítetová) of one of the ringleaders (Ludek Munzar) who betrayed him.

Although not nearly as fanciful or surreal as his later film, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Jires does toy with chronology.  The film starts in the middle, revealing Ludvik’s history gradually through flashbacks the circumstances that led to his vengeful demeanor.  Often these flashbacks overlap with the present, as when he sits on some sort of religious or folk ceremony and it reminds him of his “trial”.  Sounds from the past bleed into the present, and vice versa.  It’s a compelling technique used in a way that feels fresh and daring.  The flashbacks are also told through the first-person perspective, both putting the viewer in Ludvik’s shoes and robbing the protagonist of his identity.

It’s a very interesting story that maintains momentum and takes intriguing turns.  The film is openly critical of the Party, not with sly allegory but taking it head on.  Unsurprisingly, it was banned.  Even putting aside its strong political content, it works as interesting human drama.  I’ve made my share of offhand remarks where the humor was lost and some kind of situation blew up.  Although I’ve never been thrown in jail for it, I could relate to Ludvik’s frustration and disillusionment.  Rating: Very Good (85)


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