- Theatrical Trailer
- Production Note
Most World War II movies revolve around the heroics of battle, soldiers and military strategy, eschewing human foibles and moral ambiguity. Not so Divided We Fall. Instead, this Oscar nominee (for Best Foreign Language Film of 2000) focuses on the psychological toll of war, taking an unblinking look at the terror that Nazi occupation visited on ordinary Czech citizens, the complex choices and moral compromises they were forced to make, and how they unaccountably retained a sense of humor through it all. Life is Beautiful used humor to dull the jagged edges of Nazi brutality (indeed, it came close to trivializing it), but Divided We Fall pulls no punches. No one's entirely good or bad, hero or villain; rather, each character adapts to the circumstances he is faced with as best he can, trying to maintain some semblance of decency in an atmosphere of oppression, mistrust and mortal danger. The result is a powerful reminder of a sordid chapter of history we cannot afford to forget.
The central characters are Josef (Boleslav Polivka), a rangy, unambitous, narcoleptic sort, and his petite, sloe-eyed, swan-necked wife Marie (Anna Siskova), who bears a passing resemblance to Holly Hunter. When a Jewish neighbor, David Weiner (Csongor Kassai), returns to their town after escaping from a prison camp, the couple hide him in a closet in their home, not so much because they are dedicated to resisting the Nazis as because they are decent people, and they realize that turning David away will likely mean death for him. David's family was killed in the concentration camps; furtive and dispirited, he describes unspeakable brutalities he has witnessed.
But Josef and Marie are caught between a rock and a hard place; circumstances force them to tolerate Nazi collaborator and frequent visitor Horst (Jaroslav Dusek), a self-serving, knuckle-cracking lecher with a Hitler mustache and the contacts Josef needs to get work. Yet, unknown to Josef and Marie, Horst knows their secret and doesn't reveal it. Economic necessity also leads to Josef's association with the local Nazi kingpin, Herr Kepke (Martin Huba); "the life of one German," Kepke proclaims, "is worth 20 Slavs or 100 Jews." The sense of enigma, of forced duality, of insoluble ethical dilemma, is the defining characteristic of Divided We Fall.
Most of the story, which gets a little too drawn out, involves Josef and Marie's frantic efforts to avoid detection of David's presence, while they maintain the appearance of friendship with Horst. Making an amorous advance, Horst kisses Marie's hand, not realizing the hand is really David's; he's hiding in Marie's bed with her. A scene in which a female Nazi collaborator's head is shaved is based on footage from Marcel Ophuls's 1971 documentary about occupied France, The Sorrow and the Pity.
The surprisingly productive Czech film industry (Czech director Jan Sverak made 1996 Best Foreign Film winner Kolya) has a sophistication that belies the country's small size and poverty. Hollywood has nothing on the intimate, personal style 34-year-old director Jan Hrebejk employs here; there are shadowy, murky nights, coruscating sun, and virtuosic closeups that capture every nuance of emotion. The sets are authentic down to the last uniform and babushka, and the actors skilled enough that the film takes on a quasi-documentary feel, adding to its chilling quality. Key sequences were photographed at 20 frames per second (instead of the usual 24), and are played back so that the actors move at normal speed, heightening tension with a jittery, stroboscopic effect. Though it failed to bring home the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Divided We Fall is much more resonant than the one that did--Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.