John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
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This film is a masterpiece.
If that hasn't caught your attention, the man responsible for this project is Jirí Menzel, director of Closely Watched Trains (1966).
If that hasn't caught your attention either, the film rightfully belongs to the technical and anti-Communist trademark trends of the Czech New Wave.
In case you are noticing that most film databases mention this film as being of 1990, you might then argue that the cinematic New Wave was over in the country. That's true.
It turns out, however, that this was filmed in 1969, but released 21 years later.
As some know, the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia went through different phases of strength and relaxation, especially through the 50s and 60s. Between 1946 and 1948, the country was under the rule of a coalition government with Communist ministers, and in 1948, it became a Communist state. In 1960, however, it officially became a Socialist republic, so this decade presented a more lax oppression of the regime, although artistic freedom was not completely allowed in the media. Still, it was lax enough for a shocking amount of renowned filmmakers releasing both serious and satyrical films that criticized the present regime in the country, including Jirí Menzel, Evald Schorm, Juraj Jakubisko, Jan Nemec and, arguably, Vera Chytilová. Many of them refused to modify the contents of their films to suit the sensibilities of the censors.
Thank God, Menzel was one of them. Unfortunately, in August of 1968, the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia was initiated, which restored the oppression of the Communist regime thanks to the Soviet Union and its main allies: East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. This film began to be made in 1968, some months before August, which was a terrible coincidence.
Larks on a String was released until 1990, after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 restored democracy in the country and happened simultaneously with a 3-year extirpation process of Communism in Europe, gaining worldwide acclaim immediately after its release, from the Berlin Film Festival to Cannes. Menzel's testament has the political ferocity of criticism that Nemec had in A Report on the Party and the Guests (1966), his trademark comedy and themes of sexual awakening and exploration, and the search for the definition of the human identity of Evald Schorm in Courage for Every Day (1964), with a scent of contemplative humanism philosophy.
That's precisely what the film is and does. It takes a junk yard full of suspicious "bourgeois elements" imprisoned for differing, and sometimes ridiculous reasons, and transforms it into a shockingly iconic location despite its rotten inert structure full of the exploits of Capitalism. They are divided in two groups: men and women. Another division would identify them as prisoners and guards. All of them constantly interact. They romanticize each other. The play. They laugh. They tell stories. They gather their hands around a fire coming out from a trash can. They philosophize. Above all, they fight to define clearly their human existence and retain their dignity, exalting their impulses, prioritizing their feelings and impulses or their philosophical ideals, this latter range including positive, negative, or unsure remarks on epistemological philosophy, Communism, Socialism, Western Capitalism, Marxism, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Chaplin, Jews, Judaism, Christianism, Czech patriotism, and North Korean empathy.
It has everything any cinephile could ask for. The humor is sharp-wittedly acid. The empathy towards the characters is easy to build. The brief moments of slapstick humor is a relief for the soul. Some segments are so obviously symbolic that one cannot miss why the censors felt so insulted for 21 years. The whole setting, despite grim, irradiates some implicit sparks of Magic Realism and hope in the middle of oppression in a similar way Vittorio De Sica did with Miracle in Milan (1951). Oh, and it is damn funny.
Seriously, if you're not convinced even yet, then my task is done, but you're missing a lot with this one. Do not let its censorship period to be extended even more nowadays.
One of the half dozen or so Czech New Wave films being shown at the World Film Festival of Bangkok, this 1969 film by Jiri Menzel (Closely Watched Trains) was banned until 1990, when it was finally shown at the Berlin Film Festival.
A sharp commentary on the communist system in Czechoslovakia, the story takes place in a scrapyard where a philosopher, a librarian, a jazz musician, a former industrialist and other bourgesois types were working as part of their reassignment under the proleterian workers state.
Romance is thrown in, when some women prisoners, who work in another part of the scrapyard, are thrown in. Love develops between a young man and one of the women, and everyone in the scrapyard, including a guard, do their part to bring these young people together.
But there's trouble when a doddering government official comes for a visit, and the young man questions him. Off to the mines with that guy.
Meanwhile, the supervisor (a worker, just like you) of the scrapyard, goes some ramshackle home and baths a nubile young naked woman with a sponge. Another party official comes over to help.
Not sure what that means. But then Menzel's films are always full of symbolism. A couple years ago, at this same film festival, I got to see Closely Watched Trains, which contains all kinds of metaphores for sex and release -- stuff that's been copied time and again in just about every romantic comedy.
But for Larks on a String, there's more going on, stuff that was especially directed at the communist government back then, but is still relevant today under today's fascist regimes.
Czech film from 1969 which was unscreenable in its home country for 20 years, "Larks" is a grim, pitch-black comedy (from an idea by Czech heavyweight novelist Bohumil Hrabal) about a handful of ideologically unacceptable men and women banished to live & work in a scrapyard in Prague suburb Kladno. Metaphors abound as life takes on a degraded normalcy. Brodsky's closing lines reminiscent of Winston Smith at the end of 1984. Menzel's most powerful film.
how are you
If Godard's WEEKEND is "a film found on a scrap heap," then LARKS is a film about the scrap heap, and the nails that stand up only to be hammered down.