1977, Prague. The communists have already removed all Czech democrats from power and established a communist dictatorship in the country. The country is undergoing active repression of dissidents. Continuous surveillance is underway. Czechs and Slovaks are immigrating en masse. Viktor and Maruška, like many others, illegally crossed the border and fled to London.
This is how the Czech thriller drama “The Sleepers” (2019), directed by Ivan Zachariáš, begins. The director managed not only to convey the historical part of the scene in a plausible and detailed way, but to create a plot like a detective story, enticing so much that it is impossible to tear yourself away.
1989. Rumor has it changes are coming. The Czechoslovakians are preparing for an uprising. Viktor and Maruška decide to return to Prague. When, it would seem, the whole country is preparing for the end of this terrible period, for Maruška their return is only the beginning of her long “sleeping” journey.
On a cool autumn evening, walking to their apartment, Viktor and Maruška are hit by an unknown car. Waking up in intensive care, Maruška realizes that her husband is missing. In search of Viktor, the woman remains without identification documents, ends up in a psychiatric hospital and infiltrates a Russian military base. It seems that it was Maruška who lived in ignorance and “slept” all these years, not noticing what was happening around, not understanding what lie she was living in. As if a sleeping person, she did not know what was really happening behind her back.
Ivan Zachariáš has managed to narrate the history of the country in an entertaining manner. The viewer, in excitement and fear, watches the development of events, not realizing these events occurred. The terrible events of the communist regime established on the territory of Czechoslovakia after the defeat of fascism are fresh in the memory of Czechs and Slovaks. Political relations with Russia are proof of this. “Do you think that after the fall of communism everything will change? No. After all, we are not at war with communism, we are at war with Russia. Russia will remain,” sums up one of the series’ characters.
November 17, 1989. The “Velvet Revolution,” an uprising that emerged from a simple march of students, changed the course of the country’s history. On that day, students took to the streets to honor the memory of Jan Opletal, a Prague student who died in an anti-fascist demonstration in 1939. Shouts from the crowd calling for the overthrow of the government were heard and the procession moved towards the center of Prague. The communist government tried to suppress the uprising, but the rumor about the death of one of the students automatically made the communists fall to the losing side. Later it turned out that Martin Šmíd, the “dead” student, was not killed at all. It was rumored that the role of the “murdered” student was played by a junior StB agent Ludvík Zifčák. The young man was taken into custody, but was soon released from prison.
Viktor’s wife was correct in predicting a coup. Maruška lived in ignorance, like the entire Czechoslovak people. Nevertheless, with the collapse of the communist dictatorship, she continued to live as if in a dream, not knowing what was really happening around. As for the Czechs and Slovaks, they woke up.
Feature image by HBO Europe