Ucho (The Ear)

Classic Movie Review: Karel Kachňya's long-banned 1970 thriller is both subversive and suspenseful

Director: Karel Kachyňa

Writer: Jan Procházka

Starring: Jiřina Bohdalová, Radoslav Brzobohatý

In 1989, in a meager bit of pre-revolution glasnost, the Czechoslovak Communist authorities allowed a showing of the long-banned The Ear at a film festival in Písek. As British film historian Peter Hames tells it in an interview on the DVD version, the audience was kept waiting while a print was driven from Prague in a government car. For the duration of the screening the cinema was locked. Afterward the print was bundled into the car and whisked back to Prague.

It's hard to conceive a more apt left-handed tribute to this remarkable collaboration by longtime director-writer team Karel Kachňya and Jan Procházka. The Ear is indeed cinematic subversion of the first rank. Party functionary Ludvík and his tipsy, unhappy wife Anna (Radoslav Brzobohatý and Jiřina Bohdalová, both excellent) return home from a reception where Ludvík learned that his boss and several colleagues have been purged. They find their house has been broken into - not burgled, but bugged. Outside secret police creep in the hedges; inside Ludvík and Anna destroy documents, search for "the ear" and tear into each other through a sleepless night of marital strife and mounting fear. Utilizing a flashback structure to sift through the evening's events like particularly bitter tea leaves, The Ear masterfully details the subtlety with which power maintains a jugular grip. It's also a terrific thriller, a totalitarian noir that ratchets up the suspense until a false-dawn twist scarier than anything the protagonists, or the audience, imagined.

Year: 1970

Runtime: 1 hour, 34 minutes

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