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Blu-ray: The Ear | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: The Ear

Blu-ray: The Ear

Fear and loathing in Cold War Czechoslovakia

Is anyone there? Radoslav Brzobohatý in 'The Ear'

Karel Kachyňa’s The Ear (Ucho) begins innocently enough with an affluent couple’s petty squabbles after a boozy night out. He can’t find the house keys and she’s desperate for the toilet. He’s distracted, and she accuses him of having neglected her. Josef Illík’s sharp monochrome photography gleams, recalling classic noir thrillers. The mood darkens once Radoslav Brzobohatý’s Ludvik shimmies over the garden wall and discovers that the couple’s home has been broken into: spare keys are missing, there’s no power, and the phone is dead. That Ludvik and Anna (Jirina Bohdalová, pictured below with Brzobohatý) have just returned from a Communist Party function sets their nerves on edge, as is the discovery that one of Ludvik’s superiors has just been arrested.

The EarWhat follows is harrowing in the extreme, a taut, claustrophobic thriller which never quite does what you’re expecting it to. That the house has been bugged is a very real possibility. Sequences where Ludvik and Anna attempt to burn and flush away potentially incriminating paperwork are brilliantly handled, the couple’s relationship deteriorating as their moods dip. Brzobohatý resembles a doleful Laurence Harvey, seemingly oblivious to his feisty wife’s charms. Ludvik attempts to recall what was said at the function, smartly realised POV shots giving us a flavour. And what an unprepossessing bunch his comrades are, pasty-faced sycophants in grey suits.

When the couple’s doorbell rings, we genuinely expect the impeccably-behaved Ludvik to be taken away in handcuffs, though it’s actually a bunch of his odious cronies in search of more booze. Mostly, though, this is a superbly acted two-hander, the pair’s volatile relationship depicted with forensic accuracy. Has the phone been tapped? Has Ludvik offended his superiors? I won’t say, though the film’s conclusion is all the more powerful for being so unexpected. Svatopluk Havelka’s dissonant score adds to the sense of unease.

The EarMade, improbably, in 1970, this was Kachyňa’s final collaboration with screenwriter Jan Procházka, whose ambivalent relationship with the Czech authorities meant that his more outspoken scripts were produced unchallenged. Predictably, The Ear was banned on release and didn’t receive international distribution until after the Velvet Revolution. It deserves a place in the pantheon of 1970s paranoid thrillers, alongside The Conversation and All the President’s Men.

In lieu of a commentary, Second Run give us a relevant episode of The Projection Booth podcast, and academic Peter Hames’s introduction usefully puts Kachyňa’s work in context (though he really should tidy his office). Light relief of sorts comes in the shape of Vlastimil Venclík’s short film The Uninvited Guest, in which a loved-up young couple are obliged to entertain an unexpected visitor. It’s very funny.

@GrahamRickson

Has the phone been tapped? Has Ludvik offended his superiors? I won’t say

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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