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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Larks On A String - Larks On A String( Blu Ray) [Second Run - 2022]

From the late 1960’s Larks On A String (aka Skřivánci na niti) is slyly cutting, grimly surreal, at times darkly humour-lined satire of the Communist regime- where suspected bourgeois elements of society are literally sent-to-the-scrape-heap. Here from those champions of the New Wave of Czech cinema Second Run is a recent Blu-Ray release of the film - with the disc taking in a new 4K scan of the picture, a new commentary track, and a few other extras.

Larks On A String was filmed in the year 1968, through remained banned in Czechoslovakia until the 1990s. It was directed by Prague-born Jirí Menzel. Between the 1960s and 2013 he helmed sixteen films- these went from darkly humorous coming-of-age drama Closely Watched Trains (1966), onto family comedy-drama Secluded, Near Woods (1976). Through to the village life comedy My Sweet Little Village (1985), and old-world Prague-set romantic drama I Severed The King Of England (2006).
 
Larks On A String is set in the late 1940s/ early 1950s Prague- where there’s a scrap yard where bourgeois elements of society are directed to ‘re-educate’. Sent to scape yard-come-prison we have the likes of a professor of literature, a public prosecutor, a milkman, a saxophonist, a barber, and a young cook. To one side of the yard is a compound is a female-only workhouse, and though the two sexes are not meant to interact they often do. The yards guard Andel(Jaroslav Satoranský) tries his best to keep them apart, though he has his mind on other things, like his recent marriage home where lives in a plush, but furniture-less apartment with his wife who is constantly avoiding him or burning the few items they own
 
The scape yard is full of propaganda signs for the Communist regime, and we find slimly smug and suited Trustee (Rudolf Hrusínský) constantly pushing the party line to those stuck in the yards Groundhog Day existence. From time-to-time TV crews turn up, and a false happy lifestyle is portrayed. But those who question, pretty much anything, are swept away in a grey car by the secret police…never to be seen again.
 
The film's dialogue is a blend of quite sharp sarcasm, blind and unproven hopefulness, chilling smile-fed control, and lightly amusing wordplay. As with many films of the Czech new wave, the actors play their parts with real conviction and flare. Yes, at times the often grim and pained satire of the whole thing does become a touch overbearing- but hang in there, and by the end of this one-hour and thirty-four-minute film- you’ll have found you’ve watched a very made and acted film, that makes very effective swipes at Communist regime, those who didn’t want to follow it, or those who blindly did, or were forced to do so.
 

Moving onto this region-free Blu-Ray, we find a very clean and crisp 4K scan of the film, which really brings depth and detail to the main scrapyard setting. Moving onto the extras, and we get a good selection of things- first, off we have a commentary track from The Projection Booth featuring Mike White and Jonathan Owen, and as we’ve come to expect by this collective it’s a wonderfully well-researched and observed track. They begin by discussing the banning of the film, and how it first official got shown as part of the Berlin film festival in 1990. They talk about the scrawling overhead shots of the scarp yard setting- and the use of old communist working song as sonic backing. They discuss the short stories by Bohumil Hrabal the film used as source material, and what was added by the director. They talk about how Menzel had to chance to leave the Czech Republic but didn’t and how the state treated the director after Larks On A String was made. We have a chat about the film's themes of propaganda and voyeurism. Compare the film to Menzel’s 1966 film Closely Watched Trains. Later on, they pointed out actors who appear in other Czech new wave films. The directors work in the theatre, and much more- all in all, a must-play track!
Otherwise, we have Jiří Menzel: 7 Questions (10.01) which finds at it suggests the director answering a selection of questions. Jiří Menzel on Larks On A String(9.46) which sees the director focusing on the film to hand. Our Dear Mister Foerster Died aka Umřel nám pan Foerster( 15.24) - a 1963 early short film by Jiří Menzel, which has been restored for this release. With the release topped off with a glossy twenty-page booklet an essay by author Peter Hames and an introduction by cinematographer Jaromír Šofr.
 
Larks On A String is another worthy addition to Second Runsl library of films from the New Wave of Czech cinema. The picture is most certainly an impactful, at points darkly amusing comment on the Communist regime, and I can see it appealing to anyone who enjoys well-crafted and well-acted satire….maybe it's not as arty/ veiled as some of the New Wave films, so take from that what you will.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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