1953. Czechoslovakia. The Stalinist regime is about to devalue the currency. A diversion is needed, a scapegoat, to keep people’s attention away from the fact that they are about to lose almost all their personal wealth. HAKL is a cop, a police detective who believes in justice no matter who it is for or against. Clues from a jewelry heist lead him to an arrest he ultimately comes to suspect as wrong. But the man he arrested is at the heart of the government’s diversion. He cannot be innocent.
State Security moves in right after the arrest and Hakl is taken off the case and replaced by an East German “Specialist in Zionist Crime”, ZENKE, an imperious, charismatic and meticulous man who is a Stasi secret police agent less by choice than necessity. This is a blow to Hakl because completing this case should have gotten him the promotion he’s been seeking, but now that it’s been taken away from him, his promotion remains on hold. Irking Hakl further is the fact that his right hand man, BENO, is assigned to work with Zenke. And adding a final insult to his injury, Hakl sees his own wife JITKA and son TOM become enamored with the German agent.
A deadly post office robbery occurs shortly after Zenke arrives. It is immediately linked to Hakl’s case and everything is tied together to incriminate the leadership of Prague’s Jewish Community. A show trial of “murderous Zionists” is now certain.
Unofficially, Hakl continues to investigate, during which time he discovers Zenke’s past as an SS officer. For Hakl, this is enough to provoke a confrontation with Zenke, ending in a .ght in which the German decks the Czech police detective, aggravating a medical condition of his that has been progressively worsening, sending Hakl to the hospital.
While he’s in the hospital, Jitka and Zenke become closer. Because of Hakl’s condition the couple haven’t made love for quite a while. A bit uncertain of her own attractiveness, Jitka is drawn to the manly and exotic Zenke, but she remains faithful to Hakl. Upon his release Hakl, being the good detective, starts putting pieces together, but then his emotions get the better of him and it takes Zenke’s calm to bring him back to his senses.
The show trial nears. Rather than just provide evidence, Zenke will testify. He has to. His Stasi handlers insist upon it, making it a new condition to their agreement with him to let him emigrate to West Germany to be with his family. Hakl also wants to testify. The evidence he’s been collecting must also be presented. True justice must prevail. But then Jitka is run over by a hit-and-run driver and left in a coma. There’s no doubt that it’s a warning. If Hakl doesn’t keep his mouth shut something worse will happen to those he loves.
Zenke knows to be true what Hakl suspects. He also now admires the principled if stubborn Czech policeman. The show trial becomes a moment of truth and revelation for both men. But truth and revelation do not necessarily lead to deliverance. It’s 1953 Stalinist Czechoslovakia. Every decision really means death.