Sunday, January 29, 2006


2003, Czech Republic/Slovakia/Austria, directed by Ondrej Trojan

Although it frequently flirts with predictability in its plotting, there's much to be enjoyed in this portrait of rural Czechoslvakia during World War II: there's a kind of well-worn charm that goes down very easily, belying the film's two-and-a-half-hour running time. The film opens in 1943 Prague, where medical student Eliska (Anna Geislerová) is involved in resistance activities. When her network is discovered she is ordered to depart for the countryside, in the company of a mill worker, Joza (György Cserhalmi), who lives in the middle of nowhere. Eliska is told that she must marry him in order to remain above suspicion (she's also changed her name to Hana) - as well as to be accepted by the villagers of Želary. She, of course, has no affection whatsoever for this burly stranger. The two fine central performances add considerable depth to what might otherwise be a rather thin affair, at least in its early stages, while director Trojan has an undeniable feel for the rhythms and intersecting personalities of the village. The camerawork throughout is excellent, with the gorgeous rural locations cast in the handsomest of lights. Incidentally, Želary seems to be the latest in a series of films (the best known, though not necessarily the best, being Dark Blue World) in which Czechs examine - or re-examine - their country's role in World War II; it's genuinely interesting to see how the country is portrayed onscreen against the wartime backdrop.

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