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Slovak Studies Program

Martin Votruba

 

322

 

 

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A quasi-documentary intermezzo sandwiched between shots of everyday life brings an early sense of disgust and surreality to a so-far ordinary story that has begun to take an ominous turn for the central character Jozef Lauko (Václav Lohinský).
 
Clip dialogue
Driver [Voice: I don't understand it.]
Lauko Are you comrade Szepesi?
Szepesi Yes, what is it?
Lauko From the Interhotel.
Szepesi I see. Wait here.
  [Caption: Nausea.]
  What's the matter with you? Well then... What's the matter with you, are you sick?
Worker He can't take it much.
Lauko I'm not. You shoot them up?
Szepesi Some need it.
 
Former district Communist official Jozef Lauko (Václav Lohinský) became disgusted with his role in the farm confiscations and other early Communist repressions, resigned, and became a hotel cook, all of which is gradually revealed throughout the film. Ten years later, as he takes a couple of hours off work for a medical appointment, his boss asks him to handle a complaint about meat quality with a local slaughterhouse. In the clip, having seen the doctor and freshly diagnosed with cancer, Lauko delivers the complaint.
The shots edited together for the sequence in the clip are well past the brief period when documentarism, born as the film students' preferred mode purporting to discover the truth about life stripped of Communist propaganda, defined what was sometimes called the (early) Czechoslovak New Wave, but their shock value is still derived via the impression that they convey images actually recording a slaughterhouse, and that the surrealist images of udders, bovine eyes, and flesh might almost be by-products of investigative camera angles rather than of exacting arrangement.
Part of the impression is created by the black-and-white stock, the cuts between investigative close-ups and eye-level angles, all characteristic of documentaries at the time, by the use of authentic animal parts (instead of latex creations), and by the cut to the slaughterhouse sequence from a street shot, a familiar setting also set up in a documentary style, which ferries the assumption of authenticity to the following unfamiliar locale. The impression is accentuated by the actual killing of a horse.
In broader context, charges of people's indviduality and freedom being reduced to mere numbers, or to the status of cattle, were common in criticisms of the Central European Communist regimes, and related filmic images could have, therefore, evoked corresponding associations without a more direct reference.
 
322 (the code for cancer in medical records of diseases, 1969; available with subtitles in Hillman Library) was documentarist Dušan Hanák's first feature film. It was finished after the Soviet-led invasion of 1968 and soon first censored and then banned. The single uncensored copy of the film survived outside of the Communist bloc, because it was taken early on to the then-prestigious film festival at Mannheim (Internationale Filmwoche Mannheim), West Germany, where it won the Best-Film Great Prize of Mannheim (shared with Medium Cool, dir. Haskell Wexler, 1969) and where the reels remained.

 

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