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Prague in the early 1950's. Bourgeois elements are being re-educated by working in a scrapyard full of the detritus of industrial society. The volunteer workers comprise a professor of literature, a public prosecutor, a dairyman, a saxophonist, a barber, and a young cook. Also working in the yard are a number of female prisoners serving a year for trying to defect... A camera crew arrives with potted plants and other props. An idyllic scene is created; the prisoners star briefly in a pro-North Korean newsreel before going back to work... The volunteers are striking because the scrapyard work quotas have risen without consultation. A union rep arrives to persuade them otherwise... The guard for the female prisoners gets married but the gypsy musicians make a mess at his reception. The cook flirts with one of the pretty prisoners and finally proposes... Written by
The Czech film Skrivánci na niti was shown in the United States with the title, Larks on a String (1990). The release date should really be 1969/1990. Writer-director Jirí Menzel completed the film in 1969. The Prague Spring was crushed by Soviet tanks in 1968. Possibly Menzel thought that some trace of the cultural liberation remained, but that clearly wasn't the case. The film wasn't officially released until after the Velvet Revolution freed Czechoslovakia from Soviet domination.
The plot of the movie revolves around two groups of political outcasts. The Larks on a String are women prisoners who have received one-year prison sentences for attempting to escape from Czechoslovakia. They are working in a junk yard, where they can see a group of men working who are being "rehabilitated."
I think the men were not actually considered prisoners. They had been guilty of "bourgeois activities," and were sent to the junk yard as a type of punishment. While they weren't larks on a string, they lived and worked under definite restrictions.
One restriction that members of both groups suffered was the inability to interact closely with members of the other group. They could see each other, signal each other, and shout to each other. However, that was all they could do.
The women didn't appear to have any process for complaining about their conditions. As I understood it, the men were still considered workers, and so they had channels through which to complain. The problem was that anyone who complained too much ended up in jail. This was definitely not a worker's paradise.
In this movie people are endlessly trying to relate, being caught, being punished, and then trying again. In a way it's a frustrating, discouraging movie. But, in another way, it's a credit to the characters in the film--and to the people of Czechoslovakia--that they continued to struggle and never lost hope.
We saw this movie at the Lincoln Film Forum, as part of the excellent Romanian Film Festival. (The Romanian Festival screens some movies from other Eastern European countries.) The movie should work well on the small screen. It's a great film-- find it and see it.
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