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The Joke

The great novelist Milan Kundera adapated his own novel for this tragi-comic story set against the backdrop of Stalinist repression in fifties Czechoslovakia

Drama 1969 81 mins Not rated

Director: Jaromil Jires



Jaromil Jireš’s masterful film adaptation pays homage to great Czech-French novelist Milan Kundera (1929 – 2023) who co-wrote the script. Based on Kundera’s first novel, this is a tragi-comic story set against the backdrop of the period of developing socialism and Stalinist repression in fifties Czechoslovakia. The controversial film proved too much for the authorities; it was banned for twenty years and Kundera self-exiled to France.

Ludvík returns to his hometown for a traditional folk festival and by chance meets the wife of his former friend, Pavel. It was thanks to Pavel that Ludvík’s life was ruined by expulsion from the Communist party and university fifteen years earlier following a political joke. Seizing the opportunity Ludvík plots his revenge by seducing his wife only for life to play a joke on him. Using a folkloric framework, understated film language and mixing past and present Jireš conveys Kundera’s reflections on a difficult period when lives were changed forever. A digital restoration of one of the iconic films of the Czech New Wave. Part of the 27th Made in Prague Festival, 3 November – 10 December 2023, organised by the Czech Centre London.