A TRIAL IN PRAGUENR
Nearly a half-century ago, during the height of the Cold War, 14 leading Communists in Czechoslovakia were tried on charges of high treason and espionage. Although they were innocent of the charges, they confessed and were convicted. Most of the men were hanged. Three received life sentences. Eleven of the 14 were Jews.
Documentary filmmaker Zuzana Justman's A Trial in Prague recounts both the story and the anxiety of the period via testimonies, trial footage and archival scenes. Justman interviewed Lise London, whose late husband Artur wrote about the trial in a widely published memoir entitled The Confession, which director Costa-Gavras adapted to the screen. Justman made her filmmaking debut as producer and screenwriter of Terezin Diary, a documentary about the World War II concentration camp in Czechoslovakia where she was incarcerated for two years.
The impact of A Trial in Prague goes far beyond the 14 prominent Communists--including Rudolf Slansky, said to be, at the time, the second most powerful man in the country--who were accused and convicted. Justman questions why these men hewed to their passionate belief in Communism and why they publicly confessed to crimes they didn't commit. The film also explores the role of Moscow, the motives for the trial and its anti-Semitic stance.
Justman is more than a chronicler of long-ago events, but rather one who looks probingly into the past to witness some of the 20th century's most horrible events. That much was clear during a screening of A Trial in Prague at the Montreal Film Festival in 1999. Although nearly 50 years had already gone by, the trial, with its anti-Semitic tone, continued to trouble those who knew the defendants, their families and the wider circles of intellectuals who had been accused. As filmgoers at the Montreal screening made their way out of the movie theatre to St. Catherine Street, many were brushing away tears at what they had seen and what they had remembered.