Zelary

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Zelary
Review (6/10)
(By Adam Whyte)

In May, 1943, a Czech doctor and nurse who are lovers work for a resistance movement. When they are discovered by the Gestapo, they must flee. The nurse, Eliska, is given a new identity (her new name is Hana). A patient she once gave blood to, Joza, agrees to take her to his village and marry her, for her own protection.

This Czech film, nominated for the 2004 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, is a lot of different things, most (though not all) of which it manages to pull off. It is a story about a woman on the run from the Gestapo; a certain tension is developed concerning whether she will be caught or not. It is
also the story of how the two people who marry (she unwillingly, at first) learn to like and eventually love each other. And it is also the story of an old village, called Zelary, where everyone knows who everyone else is, and what they are up to.

Hana, the film’s heroine, is played by Anna Geislerov?, who portrays her as both vulnerable and strong. Yes, she cries after she is married to a man she hardly knows, but soon enough she is back on her feet. A lot of people help her keep her secret, despite the fact that they know they are endangering themselves by doing so.

I loved this village the movie inhabits; you get to know the characters as well as the villagers do. There is the man who attempts to rape Hana. He
belts his misbehaved son and tells him never to come home. His son goes and lives in the woods, being fed now and then by helpful village people. There is also the loveable little girl who doesn’t go to school, because she is too busy wondering around with her goat, providing much of the film’s humour and heart. And the old lady who drinks too much, but helps the other women in their hours of need.

The film manages to take an old-fashioned plot (based on a book and a true story) and deal with it in a modern way without losing its charm. Modern films set during World War Two (especially Hollywood ones) usually either glamorise it, turning human soldiers into superhuman heroes, or make it look like hell (which it was, for many people). Few, however, have the time to show the people living in the small villages, away from the action but still
affected by it.

The movie has good cinematography, and doesn’t drag despite its two and a half hour running time. Hana is a good central character, and we also find ourselves more and more liking Joza. The film, indeed, goes fine, until the last act.

It is 1945, and at last the soldiers show up to tell the town that the war has been won. The story then develops into essentially an action film,
although I won’t say how. Not as you would expect it to, anyway. It is well done, yes, but it feels like another film; we are totally unprepared
for what happens, and the film is left disjointed. Did what happens in the last third of the film actually happen? Quite possibly. Yet the film treats it in such a way as to make it feel like a contrived excuse for some heroism. Hana is shifted from the spotlight and Joza becomes the hero of the movie.

The movie has the attention to characters and local eccentricities that you probably expect from a European war film, and I recommend it. The last third was perhaps material for another film though. Hana is the hero of this story, not Joze. We believe that she is fighting to survive (as we do about the boy who lives in the woods), but are unsure about Joze’s scenes of action. They are done well, but the film should have either reconsidered how to introduce this new story thread, or left it out and concentrated on Hana, the locals, and the goat.

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