The corona virus status for today, 28/3, is that we are still doing fine. So far, we have gotten through this lightly. Otherwise there is not so much to tell. Our health authorities say that the numbers look promising, that we, in Denmark, will get off easier than Italy and that is something.
Today’s movie is the Czech movie “Ucho” (“The Ear”), a movie that was banned is Czechoslovakia immediately upon completion and was only dug out from oblivion in 88 or 89. I perfectly understand why this was banned. The surprise is that it was made at all.
“Ucho” feels like the love child of “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Das Leben der Andern”.
Married couple Ludvik (Radoslav Brzobohatý) and Anna (Jiřina Bohdalová) return from a party at Prague Castle with the elite in Czech politics. Ludvik is a senior official and therefore part of the privileged class. However, upon their return they find out that their home has been visited and somebody are lurking outside the front gate… Their conclusion is that this can only be the secret police and so start a night of paranoia. Ludvik panics and starts burning everything that can be construed as criminal and when they discover microphones all over the house and realize everything they have said all night is now known to the secret police, they suffer a break down.
Parallel to this story they are having a domestic row, which mostly consists of Anna screaming and shouting accusations and insults and complaints at Ludvik with Ludvik returning with the occasional sarcastic jab. Even when Ludvik realizes that something more sinister than an angry wife is going on Anne is not letting up. Eventually the seriousness of the situation sinks in for Anna and her rantings are briefly let up with concern and even affection, but alas, only briefly.
Ludvik keeps having flashback to the party and eventually all the innocent revelry takes on new and ominous meaning.
The story that nobody is safe in a totalitarian system is unmistakable and while extremely relevant I do wonder how on Earth director and producer managed to get so far as to actually complete the movie before it was intercepted. The criticism of the system in the East Block is so direct and unveiled that you have to be very naïve to believe that this would slip through. The terror and feeling of violated privacy have only been matched by “Das Leben der Andern” 36 years later and even if the topic had been allowed I doubt the establishment would find it comforting to learn that nobody is above the secret police. But then again, probably they already knew that.
The domestic row is, I understand, supposed to be an allegory for the relations between the people and the system, but I do not entirely understand this connection. Instead I found it rather annoying and unpleasant. Where Liz Taylor and Richard Burton’s venomous jabs were highly entertaining, Anna’s are shrill and annoying. In that I feel almost sympathetic to Ludvik who seems more interested in calming her down than scoring points. Had he slapped her to shut her up I could almost have forgiven him, but then again it felt as if this was exactly what Anna wanted to provoke as if any sort of passion would be better than his disinterest. As far as I could tell his premier crime was that he had forgotten it was their tenth-year anniversary. Life is so unfair…
“Ucho” is highly condensed in that it takes place over a single night, mostly in that single house and except for the flashbacks, with only the two of them, Anna and Ludvik. This allows the movie to be intense and focused. Yet I could not help thinking that we kept going over the same ground with very little progress, mostly in the form of things becoming more or less ominous. Perhaps it was simply me getting impatient with Anna’s screaming but it felt like a longer movie than its 94 minutes running time and that is a shame because the topic and message is remarkable and incredibly daring.
Ultimately the circumstances around the movie and its topic is more interesting than the movie itself, but that is enough to deserve a viewing.