Half a year after it was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards, the Czech film Zelary is finally making its way into theaters. There is really no reason why it took so long for a release. It is probably a bad thing, since any free advertising from the Academy Awards is long gone. The really sad thing is that two other Best Foreign Film nominees have yet to appear on screens, and it's getting time to get ready for next year's nominees. Zelary is a sprawling film that takes place in rural Czechoslovakia in the early days of World War II. Eliska (Anna Geislerova, Bratri, The Visitor) is a nurse who also works in the Czech resistance.

As the war rages on, it becomes more dangerous for the Resistance. They scatter, and force Eliska to relocate to Zelary, a far off mountain town, where she will marry Joza (Gyorgy Cserhalmi, The Bridgeman, Smouldering Cigarette), an old farmer. The culture shock is immediate and severe. Life in Zelary is nothing like life in the city. Everything moves slower, everybody knows each other, and people are very wary of Eliska, now called Hana. Some want to help, but others realize if the Gestapo discovers her there, everybody will suffer. Hana is also very arrogant, and does not want to be there. She is resentful at being forced to leave her life, marry, and become a different person.

Zelary, adapted by Petr Jarchovsky (Pupendo, Out of the City) from the novel by Kveta Legatova is notable because of the way it treats the relationship between Hana and Joza. Since the running time is so long, director Ondrej Trojan (Pupendo, Cruel Joys) can show how Hana's temperament changes from wariness to love. This is so refreshing and different from most other films, where people fall in love almost arbitrarily. Joza truly loves Hana, from the moment he lays eyes on her. He is patient, caring, and a good decent man, and Hana sees this. As she begins to accept that her life is now different, her feelings for Joza slowly begin to change.

The Hana/Joza relationship is at the core of Zelary, but Trojan also takes the time to delve into the lives of some of the townsfolk. Usually, they all come in contact with Hana somehow, and usually serve to cement her connection to Zelary. The film's length also tends to turn some of these subplots into mini-episodes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The worst element is probably the beginning of the film, which moves too quickly before settling down to a very bucolic pace. However, as far away as Zelary is, it can still be a dangerous place. As time moves on, the war does too, closer to Zelary. It's clear to see why the Academy chose this film. Geislerova gives a strong performance, it is set in World War II, is centered around a love story, and contains elements of tragedy. It didn't deserve to win (but neither did The Barbarian Invasions), but was a good nominee.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 30 minutes, Czech, and some Russian and German with English subtitles, Rated R for violence and some sexual content.

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