The Joke

Country

Czechoslovakia

Copyright

1968

Production year

1968

Premiere

28 February 1969

Runtime

81 min

Category

film

Genre

social, psychological, tragicomedy

Typology

featuretheatrical distributionlong

Original title

Žert

Czech title

Žert

English title

The Joke

Summary

Author Milan Kundera played a role in the Czechoslovak New Wave via several big screen adaptations of his own works. One example is Já truchlivý Bůh (I, the Distressing God, 1969), a film inspired by a short story from his Směšné lásky (Laughable Loves) collection. Another adaptation is Žert (The Joke, 1968), which is drawn from Kundera’s first novel of the same name, first published in 1967. Two years later, he and co-writer/director Jaromil Jireš worked on the film version of this tragicomedy. One of the most famous Czechoslovak films of the 1960s, The Joke concerns itself with the issue of Stalinist repression. Ludvík Jahn, the hero of the story, falls victim to just such repression in this highly-regarded film starring Josef Somr. As a young man, Jahn sends a postcard to a fellow student with some lines mocking the authorities. This causes him to be expelled from both school and The Party. He ends up arrested, and made to endure prison, a forced labour camp (where he spends three years digging in the mines) and military service. After his release, Ludvík returns to his native hometown in Moravia in order to have his revenge on former schoolmate and friend Zemánek (Luděk Munzar) – the man responsible for ruining his life. He decides to seduce Zemánek’s wife, radio reporter Helena (Jana Dítětová), but Ludvík’s plan fails to yield the sought-after retribution. For the new deeds do little to diminish the memories of the past. As the townsfolk celebrate a folklore festival, Ludvík remains alone as an embittered victim afflicted with an incurable sense of rage and resentment. Director Jireš and cinematographer Jan Čuřík create a powerful tale in which the viewer is brought back in time to a world of Moravian folk costumes and music. The flashback sequences to Somr’s pre-prison days are integrated into the story via random associations in which Ludvík is inspired to look back at his past. The film, which was locked away in the censors’ vault at the start of the “normalisation” era, gradually found favour with international audiences at festivals in London, New York, Delhi and other locations worldwide. A screening of Czech and Slovak films at an awards festival in Sorrento, Italy, saw Žert win the Silver Siren Award, while the motion picture picked up the OCIC Award for best adaptation at the 1969 San Sebastian International Film Festival.

Synopsis

Ludvík Jahn returns to his native city after many years to meet the radio reporter Helena Zemánková, who plans to broadcast a story on a local traditional folk festival, Ludvík wants to have his revenge. Helena has no idea that Ludvík's interest in the meeting is not caused by her withering appeal but her husband's photograph which Ludvík spotted in her cigarette case. Fifteen years ago, Pavel Zemánek was Ludvík's faculty colleague, chairman of the faculty organization of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and also his best friend. At that time, Ludvík's colleague and love Markéta sent him from her training a letter full of swollen optimism and phrases. He sent her a reply on a postcard and closed his ironical message with the greeting "Long Live Trotsky!" His practical jokes, however, were not appreciated and, thanks to Pavel, Ludvík was expelled both from the party and the school and sent to military service with the so-called "Black Barons," Auxiliary Technical Battalions, then to military prison and finally for three year's work in the mines. Ludvík wants to have his revenge on the hated Pavel by seducing his wife. In a lent flat, Ludvík not too affectionately takes Helena into his power. When he learns that the Zemáneks marriage has been solely formal for many years already, he rejects the woman's infatuated chattering with contempt. Helena tries to commit suicide - which is as ridiculous and misshapen as Ludvík's desired revenge.

Cast

Josef Somr

Ludvík Jahn

Jana Dítětová

rozhlasová reportérka Helena Zemánková

Luděk Munzar

Pavel Zemánek

Jaroslava Obermaierová

studentka Markéta Pospíšilová

Evald Schorm

laborant Kostka

Milan Svrčina

Dubbing Bohuslav Čáp
houslista Jaroslav

Miloš Rejchrt

voják Alexej, třídní nepřítel

Věra Křesadlová

Dubbing Iva Janžurová
Věra Brožová, Zemánkova přítelkyně

Jaromír Hanzlík

poručík, velitel oddílu PTP

Michal Pavlata

technik Jindra Tkadlečka

Jiří Sýkora

voják Čeněk, malíř

Václav Svěrák

studentský funkcionář

Jan Svoboda

studentský funkcionář

Dušan Trančík

studentský funkcionář

Rostislav Volf

studentský funkcionář

Lenka Termerová

copatá dívka

Ferdinand Šnajberk

oddávající na MNV

Manuela Gogolová

mladá žena

Horymír Sušic

cimbalista

Jaroslav Čech

cimbalista

Jan Nykl

houslista

Jarin Staněk

houslista

Petr Hrobař

houslista

Josef Vrzala

houslista

Vincenc Moštěk

zpívající starý muž

Dubbing

Vlasta Jelínková

hlas staré ženy

Jana Andresíková

hlas z pouličního rozhlasu

Crew and creators

Second Unit Director

Eliška Štíbrová, Vladimír Drha

Assistant Director

Ivana Skabranská

Script Supervisor

Dagmar Švejdová

Based on

Milan Kundera (Žert – román)

Shooting Script

Jaromil Jireš

Script Editor

Zdeněk Bláha

Director of Photography

Jan Čuřík

Second Unit Photography

Jiří Polák

Camera Operator

Stanislav Šťastný

Production Designer

Leoš Karen

Assistent Production Designer

Leopold Zeman

Set Designer

Ladislav Winkelhöfer, Karel Kracík, Vladimír Ježek

Costume Designer

Helena Anýžová

Film Editor

Josef Valušiak

Assistant Film Editor

Milada Malínská, Marie Tillerová

Sound Designer

Adam Kajzar

Production Manager

Miloš Stejskal

Unit Production Manager

Renée Lavecká, Jiří Holeček

Unit Production Manager

Antonín Suchánek

Consultant

pplk. František Říčka

Cooperation

Jana Císařová (klapka), Jan Kuděla (fotograf)

Music

Music Composed by

Zdeněk Pololáník

Music Performed by

FISYO, Slovácká muzika Hradišťan, Svatopluk Bimka /klarinet/

Songs

Za hory horečky zašly ně ovečky

Songwriter lidová píseň
Writer of Lyrics lidová píseň
Singer Jana Dítětová

Ej, svítilo slunéčko na naší zahrádku

Songwriter lidová píseň
Writer of Lyrics lidová píseň
Singer Jana Dítětová

Kalinka

Songwriter lidová ruská píseň
Writer of Lyrics lidová ruská píseň
Singer Alexandrovci

Kupředu jít, radostně žít

Singer mužský sbor

Stavíme nový svět

Songwriter Jiří Pauer
Writer of Lyrics Jiří Pauer
Singer sbor

Na těch panských lukách

Songwriter lidová píseň
Writer of Lyrics lidová píseň
Singer Slovácká muzika Hradišťan

S pánem bohem, kamarádko

Songwriter lidová píseň
Writer of Lyrics lidová píseň
Singer ženský sbor

Ptala se Zuzana Kuby

Songwriter lidová píseň
Writer of Lyrics lidová píseň
Singer sbor

Šel jsem za noci alejí

Songwriter lidová píseň
Writer of Lyrics lidová píseň
Singer Vincenc Moštěk

Kupředu, zpátky ni krok

Songwriter Jan Seidel
Writer of Lyrics Bedřich Bobek
Singer sbor

Dobre je /Verbuňk/

Songwriter Otakar Horký
Writer of Lyrics Anežka Gorlová
Singer sbor

Na tom pražském mostě

Songwriter lidová píseň

Ja dolina, dolina

Production info

Original Title

Žert

Czech Title

Žert

English Title

The Joke

Category

film

Typology

featuretheatrical distribution

Genre

social, psychological, tragicomedy

Origin country

Czechoslovakia

Copyright

1968

Production Year

1968

Production specifications

literary Screenplay approved 9 March 1968
technical Screenplay approved 30 March 1968
start of filming 17 May 1968
end of filming 25 September 1968
projection approval 19 December 1968

Premiere

premiere 27 February 1969 /unsuitable for youths/ (kino Letka /5 týdnů/, Praha)
premiere 28 February 1969 /unsuitable for youths/ (celostátní)
renewed premiere 1 July 1990 /unsuitable for youths/
renewed premiere 14 July 2022 /suitable for all ages without limit/

Studio

Hostivař

Distribution

Ústřední půjčovna filmů (původní 1969 a obnovená 1990), Národní filmový archiv (obnovená 2022)

Creative Group

Tvůrčí skupina Šmída – Fikar, Ladislav Fikar (vedoucí dramaturg tvůrčí skupiny), Bohumil Šmída (vedoucí výroby tvůrčí skupiny)

Technical info

Duration typology

feature film

Duration in minutes

81 min

Original length in metres

2 235 meters

Distribution carrier

16mm, 35mm, DCP 2-D, BRD

Aspect ratio

1:1,37

Colour

black & white

Sound

sound

Sound system/format

mono

Versions

Czech

Dialogue languages

Czech

Subtitles languages

without subtitles

Opening/End credits languages

Czech

Awards

Vítěz

Event: Ceny Trilobit 1968

1969
Praha / Czechoslovakia
Jaromil Jireš

Vítěz

Exhibition: Přehlídka českých a slovenských filmů 69 Sorrento

1969
Sorrento / Italy
Jaromil Jireš

Vítěz

Festival: 17. mezinárodní filmový festival San Sebastián

1969
San Sebastián / Spain
Jaromil Jireš

Vítěz

Festival: 7. filmový festival mladých Trutnov

1969
Trutnov / Czechoslovakia