Divided We Fall

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Divided We Fall immediately brings to mind Life is Beautiful. Both are World War II oriented movies that mix generous amounts of humor with the Holocaust. At the 2001 Academy Awards, Divided We Fall was the Czech nominee for Best Foreign Picture, and lost to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This is still a special film, taking a look at events from the Czech point of view, not exactly a prominent one. Things begin lightning fast, with years passing in a matter of moments. It's a little disorienting, but director Jan Hrebejk (Cosy Dens, Big Beat) wants to quickly provide some background on the characters and their situations. The Weiner family owned a business. At the start of World War II, the government forced the Weiner family off their estate. They moved in with Josef Cizek, an employee, and his wife.

As war progressed, the Nazis moved the Weiners to Poland. David Weiner (Csongor Kassai, Landscape) escapes and returns to Josef (Bolek Polivka, Out of the City, Eliska Loves the Wild Life) and Marie (Anna Siskova, Landscape, On the Beautiful Blue Danube) who promptly hide them in their closet. All this in a matter of minutes! They have room for him because they are unable to have children, but they do have two extremely biblical names (hint, hint). They hate the Nazis, but have done nothing active to oppose them. Like most of their neighbors, they are merely hoping things will return to normal. This is a problem, because Horst Prohaska (Jaroslav Dusek, Cosy Dens, Prology), a Nazi supporter. He has a crush on Marie, and stops by frequently to bring her gifts and act like a pest. Of course, this causes problems for Josef and Marie, who are trying to keep a low profile. In order to shift suspicion away from themselves, Josef and Marie endear themselves to Horst. They let him visit more often, and Josef even takes a job with the Nazis. This only makes things worse. Local Czechs now look with scorn upon Josef for collaborating, and Horst comes by too much.

These predicaments in Hrebejk and Petr Jarchovsky's (Cosy Dens, Big Beat) script and Josef's character provide the humor. Josef is an ordinary man, possibly a little on the grumpy side. He has some sort of injury that prevents him from working or exerting himself. Although he appears gruff, he desperately wants to help David survive. His demeanor in helping David appears to be one of reluctance, but his intentions are clear. Horst acts like a lovesick puppy. Josef and Marie's efforts to hide David from Horst are almost farcical at times. At the same time, much of the humor comes across as subdued. Points that some people may laugh at are incredibly poignant, even sad for others. This strange dichotomy that distinguishes Divided We Fall from other World War II movies. For those who are slightly slow, Hrebejk essentially yells at the audience every time she shifts into scenes with humor. The camerawork turns shaky and the screen blurs. It does not add anything to the scene. Instead, it probably takes away some of the power that Hrebejk wants each scene to have. The shaking camera and blurry screen are too headache inducing for their own good.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 57 minutes, Czech and German with English subtitles, Rated PG-13 for some violence and sexual content.

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