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The Power of the Powerless

film series 21 September, 2017 - 24 September, 2017

[Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center] Inspired by Vaclav Havel’s 1978 essay, The Power of the Powerless presents five banned Czech films, standing as testaments to the power of dissident art: The Ear, The Cremator, The Firemen’s Ball, All My Compatriots and Larks on a String.


The Czech New Wave, one of the most radical and brilliant bursts of creativity in film history, has flourished even within a totalitarian state. It was a bloody end with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Despite the stifling restrictions, the intrepid generation of filmmakers continued to challenge Communist censorship by creating an art that was provocative, satirical, and deeply critical of authoritarianism. The Soviet government responded the only way it knew how: by banning these works outright so many went unseen in their home country for decades.


In anticipation of Vaclav Havel Day in New York City on September 28 - the Czech Republic's National Statehood Day - join us for a celebration of these subversive, wildly funny, dark and defiant films. The name of the featured film series "Power of the Powerless" is inspired by Vaclav Havel's 1978 essay "The Power of the Powerless." Havel started an important discussion on the subject of freedom and power in Eastern Europe, questioning how one should challenge and interact with governing bodies in their society.


Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center
165 W. 65th Street, north side, upper level, New York, NY


Tickets will be available online at www.filmlinc.org.




The Ear
Director: Karel Kachyna, 1970, 94 min, Czechoslovakia
Saturday, September 23, 2:00 pm
Sunday, September 24, 6:30 pm


What is worse working with a group that could potentially get you arrested or having your home monitored by the government? Experience the stifling atmosphere of a totalitarian regime that watches your every move, even when you work for them. This banned film explores the danger of criticizing a government that has the power to control your fate.


Already on the brink of an ongoing communist purge, a government official (Radoslav Brzobohaty) and his neighbor wife (Jirina Bohdalova) return home from a political soiree to discover their keys are missing, their electricity has been cut, and The Ear - the state surveillance system - may be listening on their every word. It starts with a long night's journey into dread as the couple bickers, boozes, and crawls the walls with fear: could he be the next party member to disappear? Something like Cassavetes' Faces meets The Conversation, The Ear viscerally evokes the tension and all-pervasive paranoia of life under a totalitarian regime.


The Cremator
Director: Juraj Herz, 1968, 95 min, Czechoslovakia
Thursday, September 21, 9:00pm
Saturday, September 23, 6:00pm


A horror film that explores how political ideology can warp the human mind into an unforgiving machine. This banned film was exposed how ideology can fuel unthinkable acts against humans.


One of the most shocking and unsettling films ever made about the corruption of the soul stars and almost supernaturally creepy Rudolf Hrusinsky as Karel Kopfrkingl, the disturbed director of a crematorium ("my temple of death") in the 1930s Prague. When Kopfrking's mania for cremation becomes entwined with Nazi ideas of racial purity, it precipitates a twisted descent into madness and horror. Charged with a shivery, macabre expressionism, The Cremator stands as a nightmarish parable of how political ideology can be twisted to justify the unthinkable.


The Firemen's Ball
Director: Milos Forman, 1967, 73 min, Czechoslovakia
Saturday, September 23, 4:00 pm
Sunday, September 24, 8:30 pm


Ever use humor to poke fun at something that is just so outwardly horrible that you have to laugh? Experience a satire on the faults and the Communist government, where, even though it is a nice idea, everything goes wrong. This banned film was thought to portray the inevitable fall of communism in Eastern Europe.


Milos Forman's brilliant satire turns an epically disastrous girl into a merciless critique of the bureaucratic incompetence. When a brigade of small town firefighters throws and shindig in honor of their ailing octogenarian chairman, the result is a tragicomic train wreck as absurdist mishaps pile up: the guests take the prize table; The contestants in a beauty contest rebel; And a house fire reveals just how deep the ineptitude runs. Read by the government as an allegory for communism's failings, The Firemen's Ball was banned "forever" and Forman exiled. It is easy to see why they were afraid. This is a political satire of the highest order: fiercely funny and painfully perceptive.

All My Compatriots
Director: Vojtech Jasny, 120 min, Czechoslovakia
Saturday, September 23, 8:00 pm
Sunday, September 24, 2:00 pm


After war there is a celebration of freedom, but what happens when, even after victory, you do not agree with the new atmosphere? Experience the tension and heartbreak of moving from the Nazi occupation to the rules of the Soviet Socialist Union. This banned movie explores how relationships are affected by a government that has the power seize all one owns.


Communism brings change and disillusionment to a small Czech village in this daringly subversive micro-epic. Set between 1945 and 1958, All My Compatriots follows the myriad of residents of a Moravian farming community as they are coerced into collectivization, a process that pits the neighbor against the neighbor, those who join the party against those who resist. With sun-dappled, bucolic images and a feeling for small town social rituals - from church services to boozy bacchanals - Vojtech Jasny (winner of the best director's prize at Cannes) casts a jaundiced eye on the corrupt, anti-democratic soul of the Communist takeover.


Larks on a String
Director: Jiri Menzel, 1969, 94 min, Czechoslovakia
Thursday, September 21, 7:00pm
Sunday, September 24, 4:30pm


Camaraderie and romance blossom in, of all places, a Prague junkyard in this deceptively sunny satire from the director of Closely Watched Trains.


This deceptively sunny satire from the director of Closely Watched Trains conceals a deadly serious heart. Set in the aftermath of the 1948 Communist coup, it follows a band of bourgeois enemies of the state who are relegated to working in a scrap metal yard where camaraderie and romance blossom even as people disappear for having the wrong opinions. Throughout, filmmaker Jiri Menzel balances moments of graceful comedy with sobering reminders of authoritarianism’s human toll. Banned for decades, Larks on a String went unseen until its premiere at the 1990 Berlin Film Festival, where it took the top prize.


This event is organized by Lincoln Center in collaboration with Czech Center New York and BBLA.

Bohemian Benevolent & Literary AssociationHospodaThe National Czech and Slovak MuseumAmerican Friends of the Czech RepublicCzech CenterConsulate General