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Husband (senior ministry official) and wife find their house is riddled with listening devices put there by his own ministry. A harrowing night follows (reminiscent of 'Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf'), and the resolution is _worse_ than being carted off to jail...Written by
Stephen Simmonds <email@example.com>
Choices of a lifetime hiding behind a chilling sketch of police state surveillance
Husband and wife stagger tired and tipsy through their house at night holding candelabras. Something's not quite right, a basement door open ajar, keys where they shouldn't be, electricity and phone are out of order. A little earlier the movie opens with the couple back at their house after a 'party' gala. They fight and bicker on the pavement out of the car, then inside the house, like we're behind a closed door hearing echoes of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Flashbacks to the party earlier that night in subjective POV shots take us through a roomful of people dressed in suits holding up cocktail glasses ready to toast prominent Party figures, faces peering intently into the camera, huddling together to hide conspiratorial whispers or perhaps simple idle gossip. When the husband goes to the bathroom to freshen up, an old woman shows up to offer him a towel; in doing so, she disappears in the background and stays there, as though placed there to observe.
This is a great movie about paranoia, the "fear" of being watched and discussed, and it's a half good movie when it stops being about paranoia, because at some point we know the couple is being monitored by the Party and have had to live with bugs in their living room for years. In the famous finale of The Conversation, a maddened Gene Hackman tears through his apartment looking for bugs. His nightmare echoes through the years of cinema because it's a nightmare left incomplete, damnation through eternity. Here things become clear in the final act.
This is ambiguous psychodrama for as long as it suits the movie, then it becomes the political indictment it planned to be. It's stunning to me that a movie like this was allowed to be made in the Eastern Bloc of the 1970's. Usually filmmakers working in Soviet Union satellite republics spoke of Soviet tyranny indirectly. They used the Nazis to tell us about living through the oppression of a totalitarian regime. Here comrade Stalin is mentioned by name. As such, this is a brave movie that attacks contemporary things of a contemporary society.
The dimensions of this political thriller are most chilling for me in a particular scene: the husband asks the wife to remember earlier at the party if one particular guest was friendly to her and addressed her by her first name. He reasons that if he did so, if he recognized her in public in a friendly manner, that the husband is not under political scrutiny by his higher-ups, if that were the case everyone would keep their distance from even the wife. Social life in The Ear is not leisure time or exchange of ideas, it's an arena of suspicion and conspiracy, a chess game of ritualized behavior and expected moves.
Back home, behind closed doors, The Ear never sleeps. Under its scrutiny, married life becomes the forum of vented anger and frustration. As the married couple stagger through their household in the dark holding candelabras as though exploring the catacomb of a Gothic horror movie, their exchanges become increasingly unpleasant and hostile. There's one very grueling scene in the bathroom where the wife berates her husband for the choices of a lifetime. Yet in the important moments of life and death, when a man is about to take his own life or when they're coming to get him, they're close together in defiance of everything.
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