Divided We Fall Reviews
Josef and Marie(Bolek Polivka and Anna Siskova) are an affable Czechoslovak couple. Josef is an unemployed man who hates the Nazis and spends most of his time idling in his own apartment, and Marie is a loving housewife. They are unable to have children but Marie yearns for a child, frequently praying in secret to the Virgin Mary for some immaculate conception. They suffer the impromptu visits of a former employee of Josef's named Horst(Jaroslav Dusek), who now unabashedly works as a Nazi collaborator. Horst pretends to visit on behalf of Josef but it is blatantly obvious to the couple that he has a romantic interest in Marie. When Josef and Marie decide, after much timid consideration, to offer shelter to a young Jewish man named David(Csongor Kassai), they find themselves in a very risky and increasingly absurd situation.
This movie is not quite like any other World War II movie you've seen. It has a soft heart and is rich with humanity, but it also boasts a very cutting sense of humour. As the films main antagonist, Horst is far from a figure of one-eyed evil, but is instead presented as foppish figure who seems to just go along with the Nazi collaboration through some imagined notions of the esteem it might bring him. He is far from a likeable character but in general he is perceived as much more idiotic than malicious. Perhaps what director Hrebejk is saying is that men like Horst were merely puppets of a much greater evil. As Josef contemplates at one point:
'You wouldn't believe what abnormal times can do to normal people.'
As the movies reluctant hero, Josef, Bolek Polivka is absolutely brilliant. I'd seen Polivka act in another of Hrebejk's movies, ''Cosy Dens'' (a film which remains immensely popularity in the Czech Republic and Slovakia), and he has one of those effortlessly winning screen presences. I've recently learnt that he is also a trained mime artist, which didn't surprise me in the least. Every emotion the character is going through- be it fear, cowardice, or utter bemusement at the situation in which he finds himself- is accurately conveyed by his incredible expressive visage. Anna Siskova is also excellent as his sweet and vulnerable wife, and Csonger Kosser is convincing as the shellshocked and frightened young man. These characters are complex and defy simplistic analysis. The good characters have their moments of regression and the more grotesque characters have their moments of goodness and tenderness. Jaroslav Dusek gives a splendidly comic performance as the movies dandyish villain, simultaneously capturing the character's insecurities and flaws.
Dirctor Hrejbek does an excellent job of keeping all the rather absurd events of the story rooted in the commonplace. Take the scene where Josef and Marie show David to his place of refuge. As if fussing over a guest, the willing couple accommodate the fugitive David with his closet-sized hiding-place to be. As Marie initiates David in the secret code for danger(a mouse-like scratch on the door) Josef smirks sardonically. The scene is not played for laughs but is naturally amusing nonetheless. Without ever underestimating the seriousness of the situation or the sense of risk, the characters are always given room to be sarcastic and endearing in a very human way. The story is light and entertaining but is also morally complex. Poor Josef learns that doing the right thing does not necessarily reap many rewards. To keep Horst from sniffing at his doorstep he accepts a job as a collaborator, a decision which besmirches his neighbourhood reputation. One of the most endearing aspects of the story is how Marie forms a sweet, maternal bond with the emaciated and vulnerable David, which, given her inability to have children, adds a real poignancy to the story.
(2000) Divided We Fall
(In Czechoslovakia with English subtitles)
I have to say that the main idea is similar to other war films of that nature when they're people who rebel against Nazi laws by hiding Jewish people in secret basements/ compartments and so forth except that the main difference here is that there has never been a film (as far as I know) about how this particular Czech husband and his faithful wife risked hiding a Jewish person from execution and at the same time putting their own lives at risk. This is all fine and dandy except that the impact may have been stronger had it been based on fact since this is what people want to see happen which in most cases doesn't! The claustophobia effect works quite suspensfully with it's hand held camera movements centering alot of the times on the central star who was nearly caught several times as a result of hiding a Czechoslovakian Jewish person. Nominated for an Oscar for Best foreign film!
3 out of 4
A good cast and interesting story but I felt the humor and direction at times just didn't work well. A near-miss.
A strange tale, but I liked it because it is ultimately uplifting although not exactly in the way that I would have expected. This wartime drama is reputed to be based upon the true-life experience of a small group of residents living in a quaint Czech village which comes to be invaded and occupied by the Nazis in the early stages of WWII. The story recounts how the villagers' lives, especially one young couple's life, are changed if not turned upside down because of this and, as a result, how their relationships with friends, co-workers, and neighbors changes. Over the next few years as their situation becomes increasingly dire under a load of German rules and restrictions replete with stiff penalties for their observance, everyone tries to survive as best they can by helping each other (a nod to the Czech title) as they are able and willing to do so. This means that sometimes hard choices must be made and, as always, this means that certain trade-offs need to be met. But even when Russian troops overtake the area and the Nazis are pushed out, the trouble doesn't end there for these poor people as other difficulties present themselves. At heart this is a story about sacrifice and forgiveness and doing what it takes to get along for these villagers.
This is an incredibly moving and profound film with the themes of redemption, new birth and forgiveness in the face of horrific situations resultant from Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during and after WW II. What ethics would we apply in similar circumstances?
Interesting moral questions are raised in an artistically satisfying screenplay executed by a first rate cast.
I thought that this film was going to be another WWII drama, but this one is original and touching.