Ucho, or The Ear, seems to be one of those important films that the government of the country it was made in tried to keep under wraps or otherwise destroy so it would never see the light of day. After watching it for myself, for once, I can see why. It seems, when faced with the option of toning down its criticisms of its own government, Ucho instead opted for the “Screw it; if we’re gonna go there, we’re gonna go there” approach. There is a thin veneer of story about a married Czech couple who are at each other’s throats over the course of an evening after a party, but boy is it thin; this is one of the most openly critical foreign political films I think I’ve ever seen. Now, does that mean it’s worth the watch? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
Ucho is directed by Karel Kachyna, and again, it tells the story of a married couple, Ludvik and Anna, who seem to have some disagreements about each other’s lives. They bicker and they needle at each other until one of them either gives up and leaves or overreacts and takes it to the extreme; this film is often (and rightfully) compared to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? They arrive home after a Communist party they’ve attended to find their house without power and their doors unlocked. Naturally, being under a Communist regime and, Ludvik ranking quite highly in the local group, knowing full well their practices, they immediately begin to suspect their house is bugged and that a car will soon arrive to take Ludvik away to prison. What makes Ucho work as well as it does, aside from the committed performances from the two leads, is the overwhelming sense of paranoia it cultivates. There are a lot of POV shots from Ludvik’s eyes, especially during the segments that flash back to the earlier party, which helps us (and the film) to get into Ludvik’s mindset in the given moment, meaning we are often just as paranoid as he is. The flashbacks to the party also serve to add to this; once it’s established that there is something amiss given the state their house is in, every flashback is like an added layer, as innocuous comments and little slips of the tongue potentially belie people’s actual intentions…or do they?
Even with the heavy political subtext, this was a surprisingly fun watch. You can view it either in the mindset of a Virginia Woolf knockoff, or as a subtle thriller of paranoia, and the film works either way. Plus, at a mere hour and a half, this definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome, though, for me, the film did feel slightly longer than that, so your mileage may vary. I wouldn’t say this has any ‘drop your socks and go see this movie’ elements, but in terms of political significance, this is pretty up there. And, it doesn’t resort to being balls-out wacko about what it has to say, like Daisies or The Firemen’s Ball. I found a lot to like about this one, but I can understand if some may not share my opinion; this may be viewed as too slow, too uneventful, or too overtly political. Oh well; I can’t disagree with those arguments. All I can say is that those reasons are pretty much exactly why Ucho worked for me.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10