Monday, April 1, 2019

SHOULD I READ IT? Divided We Fall (2000)

                “Divided We Fall” is a Czech movie directed and co-written by Jan Hrebejk.  It was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards.  The movie is part of the Holocaust subgenre of war movies, but does not involve a concentration camp or ghetto.

                The movie is a character-driven study of various people who are impacted by the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in WWII.  The plot revolves around a childless couple who hide a concentration camp escapee.  Josef (Bolek Polivka) is a Jew who hates Nazis. He decides to take in David (Csongok Kassai) despite the reluctance of his wife Marie (Anna Siskova).  Josef establishes an obvious theme of the movie when he says:  “You wouldn’t believe what abnormal times can do to normal people.”  Josef has an uncomfortable friendship with a Nazi collaborator named Horst (Jaroslav Dusek).  Horst has a habit of showing up with presents, which is awkward because David is hiding in a closet.  Adding to the awkwardness is that Horst has a thing for Marie and even tries to force himself on her.  He did give her presents, remember?  To complicate matters, Josef and Horst have to lie about Marie being pregnant when it is not totally a secret in the neighborhood that Josef is infertile.  It comes to the point where they are going to need a miracle birth.

                “Divided We Fall” is a Holocaust movie with a sense of humor, or the absurd, if you prefer a Holocaust movie without humor.  It has a weird vibe to it. Is it a comedy or a drama?  The scene where David hides under the covers of the sick Marie borders on silly.  But that just highlights the movie’s main strength – it’s unpredictability.  Part of this unpredictability comes from Hrebejk’s theme that every person has some bad and some good in them.  No character in this movie is pure.  For instance, Josef decides to take a job delivering eviction notices to Jewish families in order to deflect suspicion about his hiding David.  A corollary of good people being corrupted by war is also well advanced.  All of this is done by a good cast of actors unknown in America.  The threads come together a little too conveniently in the end, and there is quite a bit of implausibility to the conclusion.  However, the film wanted to close with reconciliation as another theme.  This was something of a message to the Czech audience, although I’m not sure how meaningful it could be 55 years after the war.  Lastly, the movie has a religious theme involving the “miracle birth” of David and Marie’s child.  Heck, there are even three wise men at the birth – a Czech, a German, and a Russian.  Not really subtle, but I did not pick up on it at first.  With all that going on, the movie is not instructive about the Holocaust or the war.  It is very micro.  The city seems unaffected by the war.  There are no bombings.  It is a movie that is more interested in dynamics created by the war, than the Holocaust itself.

                “Divided We Fall” is a must see for anyone interested in Holocaust movies.  It is not among the best of the subgenre.  I found It a little too manipulative in advancing its themes.  That does not mean it was not good at presenting those themes and it does it in an intriguing way.  Watch it and see.

GRADE  =  B-

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