The plight of an opportunistic Communist bureaucrat torn between ambition and the changing tide of official loyalty provides the theme for THE EAR, a Czech film made over twenty years ago, stuck on the censors' shelf and released for exhibition by the changes in central Europe.
Scripted by director Karel Kachyna with Jan Prochazka, THE EAR also features a mordacious portrait of the unhappy marriage between Anna (Jirina Bohdalova), a tavern keeper's daughter, and Ludvik (Radoslav Brzobohaty), a smooth provincial functionary. Characteristically, when we first see them,
Anna is drunk and he, preoccupied upon their early return from an official state reception. In a series of flashbacks, Ludvik recalls the whispered gossip and strong innuendo that the head of his ministry has been arrested along with several other officials. This fear of a purge is buttressed by
the offhand remarks by some of the high-ranking and uniformed Soviet officers at the Party.
Of more immediate discomfort to the couple is the apparent loss of their house keys and a car that seems to be keeping watch on their street. Once at home, Ludvik notices a number of anomalies that heighten his fears: the electric power has been cut, the phone line is dead and strangers seem to
have occupied the neighboring house where one of the arrested ministers lived. A frantic Ludvik even sets the toilet seat on fire in a maddened effort to destroy what he thinks may be incriminating papers. Suddenly the power is restored and the phone line reestablished, but now a team of men has
assembled at their gate and demands entry.
This palpable threat effects a near reconciliation between the bickering couple, as she readies some warm clothes and he advises her how to protect their valuables. The visitors, recognizable as secret policemen from a flashback, appear genial and say they've come to return the house keys left
behind at the party and to continue some late night drinking. Relieved at the apparent reprieve, the normally fastidious Ludvik joins them in their revels at the kitchen table. And with the threat diminished, Anna and Ludvik later resume their mutual abuse.
She reminds him of his crass opportunism in both marrying her and his political loyalty, catering to whoever is in power. Indeed in one of the flashbacks we've already seen how he was careful to remind people of the distance between himself and his dishonored superior, and how he joked with an old
army pal, now a member of the secret police team. Anna even goes so far as to start doing the dishes, a task she normally avoids, and discovers a brand new "bug" or "ear" behind the sink. Together they search the house and discover three "ears" placed, he realizes, by the visiting drinkers. They
now realize that the missing keys, like the power cut, were part of a procedure they had interrupted by their premature arrival from the banquet.
Now expecting an early morning arrest, the couple once again seem reconciled, especially after Ludvik's attempt at suicide is thwarted by police thoroughness in their earlier removal of his gun from its holster. So sure of arrest is he that Ludvik confuses the gate bell with the telephone's
ringing. The call, however, is not a peremptory summons to prison, but rather a celebratory announcement of his promotion from Deputy to Minister. They stare glumly at the camera and Anna declares, "Now, I am scared."
The Communist regimes in east central Europe, like their model in Russia, had the unenviable reputation of being goverments that periodically destroyed their own, and particularly their most talented, supporters. In its droll blend of personal corruption and Stalinist practices, THE EAR does not
focus on the idealistic victims, the Karl Radeks or Nikolai Bukharins destroyed by this system, but on an opportunistic survivor, the ballast aboard a tyrannical ship of state. For American audiences this, the nineteenth film from director Kachyna, could be seen as a mixture of WHO'S AFRAID OF
VIRGINIA WOOLF? and THE CONVERSATION. In addition, the two leads bear a slight resemblance to Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret.
Filmed in high-contrast b&w, the film features several satirical close-ups of Soviet and Czech officials, vodka glasses in hand, and the whole question of the pending political purge is compared openly to a primitive conga-line dance. THE EAR is also an exemplar of the art of the political film in
eastern Europe with the fine hairline between the banned and the presentable at the censors' discretion. Ironically, the political changes that allowed the film to be finally seen have also destroyed the tension that called such art into being. THE EAR is now something of historic document on
celluloid. (Adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: The plight of an opportunistic Communist bureaucrat torn between ambition and the changing tide of official loyalty provides the theme for THE EAR, a Czech film made over twenty years ago, stuck on the censors' shelf and released for exhibition by the chan… (more)