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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Junk yard blues
From Second Run comes Jiri Menzel's Larks on a String. Unlike my review of Foreman's A Blonde in Love in which I didn't refer to the political context at all, as you view this film it soon becomes apparent that any such omission is not possible. In fact, even factoring in the liberalisation of the Prague Spring or the fact of its historical setting [in the early years of...
Published on 16 Mar 2011 by A. S. Potts

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mildly whimsical..
It is not hard to see why the post-Prague Spring regime banned this low key portrayal of men and women thrown together in the apocalyptic setting of a recycling foundry yard (shades of Mao's great Leap Forward).. There, a bunch of middle aged former intellectuals and mildly dissident men are working, under the assumption that work will cure them of their bad, bourgeois...
Published on 27 Jun 2012 by M. R. Sathiah


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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Junk yard blues, 16 Mar 2011
By 
A. S. Potts (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Larks on a String (Skrivánci na niti) [DVD] (DVD)
From Second Run comes Jiri Menzel's Larks on a String. Unlike my review of Foreman's A Blonde in Love in which I didn't refer to the political context at all, as you view this film it soon becomes apparent that any such omission is not possible. In fact, even factoring in the liberalisation of the Prague Spring or the fact of its historical setting [in the early years of the communist regime], it's hard to imagine how Menzel and the writer Bohumil Hrabal thought they'd get away with this all out assault on the system. The film was immediately banned on completion and didn't see the light of day for another 20 years, and the artists didn't work again for some years.

The story is set in the scrap yard of a steel foundry and centres on two groups of prisoners; the 'bourgeois' men are being 're-educated' to better serve the state, while the women, under separate guard, have offended the state by trying to leave it. Both groups are generally worked separately but on rare and beautiful occasions they are able to mingle.

The film is a lyrical polemic full of dark humour, satirical regime goading and exquisite moments of intimate human contact. These moments are profoundly moving; for example, when the women are allowed to help the men form a hand to hand chain in order to shift some heavy steel ingots they remove their gloves in order to experience the touch of each others bare hands. In this dismal environment every tiny nuance of their behaviour is an assertion of their human values and spirit of individualism in the face of the dehumanising regime. Meanwhile, more outspoken criticisms result in characters being hauled off by anonymous men in rain coats.

The excellent extra is a specially made short video by Menzel which takes the form of his response to seven question that one might put to him. This is both informative and moving. I think the addition of this was the cause of the delayed release date but it was well worth the wait.

In the booklet cinematographer Jaromir Sofr offers an informative insight into the fate of the film negative and print. Although the film has clearly suffered from neglect the imperfections do not distract from the power of the film making.

Another excellent release from Second Run and an essential if you're interested in Eastern European cinema of the period. Now, what about Capricious Summer?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mildly whimsical.., 27 Jun 2012
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M. R. Sathiah "DVD Lover" (Penang, Malaysia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Larks on a String (Skrivánci na niti) [DVD] (DVD)
It is not hard to see why the post-Prague Spring regime banned this low key portrayal of men and women thrown together in the apocalyptic setting of a recycling foundry yard (shades of Mao's great Leap Forward).. There, a bunch of middle aged former intellectuals and mildly dissident men are working, under the assumption that work will cure them of their bad, bourgeois mentalities and habits. Next to them is a women prisoners camp: their crime was to attempt to defect. In between, guards and officials, trade unionists in the government pay and the secret police keep an eye on them, quietly whisking them away when they protest too loudly. In between, we are shown several shots of typical Soviet era banners lauding workers and encouraging the usual joyous forward march.
The men spend much of their time discussing philosophy, quoting Kant and Greek moralists, talking about sport, reminiscing and watching the women. There is dark humour and satire but overall, looking at them chatting quite freely and occasionally cavorting with the women prisoners under the benign look of a young guard, the viewer can't help thinking that their lot is overall better than that of the officials who march to orders mouthing their tired slogans. One scene shows a senile VIP visiting the yard, sounding of inanities, although retaining enough wit to get one of the workers arrested when the latter asks uncomfortable questions. Another shows a bunch of school children led by their teacher, visiting them like they would a zoo, the teacher pointing at them and denouncing their sins.
As a political satire it is understated and mild. As a film of human interest I found it rather "flat" as it never quite fully engages one, the characters portrayed somehow appearing quite (almost happily) resigned to their fate.
Overall an enjoyable film but...
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Touching, Poignant and Funny, 18 Mar 2011
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Richard Allen (Wellington, Somerset) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Larks on a String (Skrivánci na niti) [DVD] (DVD)
I can't add a great deal to AS Potts' excellent review, other than to add my own endorsement and recommendation.

The director, Jiri Menzel, will be best known to English speaking audiences for Closely Observed Trains, which won an Oscar in 1966 for best foreign language film. I first came across his work when I saw Cutting it Short on TV many years ago. It was the funniest and most touching foreign language film I had ever seen. Like Larks on a String, it was based on the works of the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, with whom Menzel collaborated on a series of films.

Although Larks on a String is a very political film, hence its banning by the authorities, it is also touching and funny. Menzel is a wonderfully astute observer of the relationships between men and women and finds touching, quirky humour in many places.

Hopefully this release by Second Run will herald the release of more Jiri Menzel films. I have acquired several as imports from a well known auction site and can assure you that there are many more gems to be found, particularly Cutting it Short and My Sweet Little Village.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerising, 18 Dec 2011
This review is from: Larks on a String (Skrivánci na niti) [DVD] (DVD)
Larks on a String is a bleak and tragic story right from the outset. As the film progresses you see how the oppressive regime affects different people, from the imprisoned female scrapyard workers who tried to defect to the west, to the workers who are there 'voluntarily' to pay for their 'crimes' (such as the chef who refuses to work on the Sabbatical). More importantly, at least in my opinion, you also see how it affects the guards who may be as oppressed as the prisoners themselves. One part romantic comedy, one part political satire, the film manages to move between the two with ease with rapore between the male and female prisoners and although the characters make light of their situation, the way the story is told also manages to show how tragic all their lives are. 4.5/5
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get this movie!!!, 20 Sep 2012
This review is from: Larks on a String (Skrivánci na niti) [DVD] (DVD)
Just that, get this movie! Humanistic, poetic, kind-hearted, funny, it shows that the human spirit can and WILL survive against the worst, fellow -alas- humans can inflict... When you are through watching it, you'll feel a warmth in your heart and you'll find yourself smilling, guaranteed! And, oh, you'll crystal-clear realise the inevitable absurdity all totalitarian regimes are doomed to fall into. And all these delivered with the gentlest of mockeries... A jem, period.
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