Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

Larks on a String

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Made in 1969, only three years after his Oscar-winning Closely Watched Trains, Jiri Menzel's lovely, sensual Czech satire waited 21 years to pass the censors, then went on to win the top prize at the Berlin film festival. Cowritten by Menzel and Bohumil Hrabal from a collection of Hrabal's stories, the comic tale, set in the early 50s, centers on a group of "bourgeois dissidents"--including a philosophy professor, a librarian who promoted Western literature, a Seventh-Day Adventist cook (Vaclav Neckar), a saxophonist, and a public prosecutor-assigned to work on a scrap heap in the town of Kladno. Male and female political prisoners work in adjacent yards, and the flirtations between the two groups comprise much of the action of this surprisingly cheerful picture, which treats party officials and guards as hapless victims of the system along with the prisoners. The bureaucratic absurdities reach a sort of climax when the cook falls in love with a female prisoner (Jitka Zelenohorska): they wind up getting married, but the bride's grandmother has to serve as her proxy. (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, November 15 through 21)

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