Saturday, 4 February 2012
The Joke (Zert) 
The Joke, adapted from the debut novel of the same name by the famed Czech writer Milan Kundera, and directed by Jaromil Jires, was one of the most politically charged movies to have come out of the Czech New Wave movement. That, combined with its subversive humour and sharp commentary on the then-totalitarian regime, ensured that it was promptly banned by the powers that by. The joke that the movie’s title refers to was an innocuous and a tad cynical statement made by the film’s protagonist, Ludvik, to his frigid and politically-bent fiancé during his college days in the Stalinist-era – and this had resulted in his expulsion both from the Party and university. Now, a couple of decades later, the middle-aged, embittered and even more cynical Ludvik (excellently played by Josef Somr) has returned Prague with the sole intention of exacting revenge on his buddy who had done him in all those years back, by seducing his wife. The narrative of this crisply timed film regularly alternates between the past and the present, thus deftly revealing the changed perspective of the protagonist as well as his inability to disassociate with the events – the betrayal by his girlfriend and his friends, as also his compulsory days in the army and forced labour in the mines, that destroyed his life, filled him with bitterness and disillusionment, and turned him into an isolated person. The allegorical story, filled with pinching wit and a rather bleak point-of-view of life, marvelously portrayed the dehumanizing nature of the Communist society, and how the diktat for optimism and emphasis on the community breaks the spirit of the individual. The director also made absolutely terrific use of music to accentuate the sense of loss, loneliness and sadness.
Director: Jaromil Jires
Genre: Drama/Political Satire
Country: Czech Republic (erstwhile Czechoslovakia)