Directed by David Polcyn, Erik Rodgers | Reviewed by Debopam Deb Roy
Sarka is a wartime drama that takes place in Prague circa 1948. By the end of 1946, Czechoslovakia comes under the direct rule of Communist dictatorship resulting in the rampant execution of non-communist members of the state. The film tells us the story of Sarka, the pregnant wife of Jindrich, who takes up extreme measures in order to secure the future of her child. Tomas, a veteran of the Slavic regime who has recently joined the Communist party, visits Sarka to learn about the whereabouts of his friend Jindrich who is in hiding to protect him from being sent to prison.
As the film begins the viewer is introduced to the voice of a radio prompter narrating the reported suicide of Jan Masaryk, the last non-Communist of the Slovak regime on the eve of 10th March, 1948. Although reports claim it was a suicide, many believed it to be a political murder which thus paved the way for a totalitarian Communist rule all over Czechoslovakia. With the fading away of the first scene, the viewer is introduced to a young Tomas reporting back to his immediate commanding officer about his non-Communist friend Jindrich who is in hiding, claiming how he has true potential in becoming a cadet. By now, the viewer is introduced to a photograph of Jindrich held in the hand of an anonymous communist officer-in-charge. Tomas is commended for his outstanding job with a medal. As the camera gazes at his face, a look of pride reflects in his eyes.
Prague is represented as a city under tension in the film. The dull lighting of the set gives us a sense of the ongoing turmoil of the age. With the flowing narrative we now see Tomas standing below the office of the then foreign minister, quickly lighting up a cigarette. The use of certain audio tracks become essentially very crucial to the movement of the drama. The viewer now hears the sound of people breaking into the office of Jan Masaryk, who is physically beaten and thrown out of his office window. Even though Tomas’s eyes light up in sheer horror at the sight of this auspicious murder, he quickly composes himself. He then approaches the body of the foreign minister and kneels down to examine him. At the sound of church bells he shakes off the feeling of remorse, grabs the piece of cloth used to gag Masaryk and leaves.
Next we see Tomas walking down the street, trying his best to avoid any glances from strangers. Before entering a building his eyes meet with the ones of a stranger standing on the other end of the street. Suspicion spreads all over his face but he breaks the stare and goes inside the building. This is the first time we are introduced to Sarka, the pregnant wife of Jindrich. She is a pretty woman who is busy doing her chores albeit utterly confused and nervous on receiving Tomas all of a sudden. They both exchange words from which we understand that Tomas wants her to give up where Jindrich is hiding. Although initially Sarka refuses to reveal where her husband is hiding, Tomas manipulates her successfully in giving up the location, promising safety and asylum from Communist forces in return. In the meanwhile, Sarka shows Tomas a cigarette lighter bearing the Nazi emblem, which presumably belonged to her husband.
Both Sarka and Tomas venture out in search of Jindrich. She brings Tomas to an underground vault where we are introduced to Jindrich for the first time. Jindrich has made up his mind not to surrender to the Communist forces and is even ready to accept death in exchange of freedom. As Tomas and Jindrich sit down face to face discussing options to flee Prague, the camera keeps visiting a nervous Sarka. Her face reflects a mixed expression of fear, anxiety and anger. Tomas makes it obvious that it is impossible for both Jindrich and Sarka to run away together to which Jindrich seems resolute. In his mind, it is the safety of his wife and unborn child that matters the most. Hence he agrees to flee, leaving her under Tomas’s responsibility. Sarka on the other hand cannot possibly accept such a radical decision. To her, both men are selfish who are busy prioritising their own political agendas. Out of impulse, Sarka picks up a hammer lying nearby and strikes Tomas in the head. As Jindrich is perplexed by this strange behaviour, Sarka breaks down in tears. She reaches out to her husband, her hands bloody, asking him to think about her and her unborn child whom she can now feel kicking in the belly.
As the film comes to an end, we see a sudden change in Sarka’s behaviour. She decides to drag the now half-dead Tomas to an opening in the wall. She begins cementing bricks to bury him alive within the wall. However as she lays the bricks on top of another, she hums a song that resembles a kind of lullaby in Slavic. This hum slowly becomes a song as she nears completion of the wall. The song has an eerie melody which directs us viewers to immediately relate to the image on screen. At last, she picks up the pistol that Tomas dropped earlier and drops it to the side he is buried. Sarka walks out without her husband who had already fled in watching his wife murder his friend. The camera stays still and focused on the wall behind which Tomas is now counting his last few second. The viewer hears a clicking sound followed by a loud “bang” which symbolises that Tomas resorts to suicide.
Sarka is an engrossing short film that gives us a view of how bitter times had been for the people of Czechoslovakia. The days followed by the Second World War had absolutely broken people and their relations. Fathers, sons and brothers were ready to turn against one another or even desert their families in order to save their own lives. The background score of the film is almost like a haunting reminder of how death was looming everywhere and how uncertain it was to survive if one did not adhere to the Communist ideologies. Most importantly the story of Sarka is a tribute to a Slavic myth in which a woman emerges victorious in slaying the enemy using sheer intelligence rather than brute. The use of shadows and low light is an extremely commendable decision taken by director David Polcyn. Overall, Sarka is a film that tells us the story of how a mother can take severe measures and break out of stereotypes in order to secure a future for her child.