Made in: The Czech Republic
Director: Ondrej Trojan
Starring: Anna Geislerovà, Gyorgy Cserhalmi
Synopsis: In Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, a nurse named Eliska (Anna Geislerovà) also devotes her time working as a courier for an underground resistance group.
But when the Gestapo close in on her and her associates, she's forced into hiding. Leaving behind her lover, she escapes with Joska (Hungarian actor Gyorgy Cserhalmi), a gentle village dweller and former patient whose life she recently saved.
With a new identity, Eliska (who now becomes Hana) and Joska travel to Joska's home village, an isolated farming community deep in the Czech countryside. To avoid suspicion, Hana reluctantly marries Joska, and must leave behind her cosmopolitan city life and adjust to an uncertain future in the wilderness.
The Good: Beautifully photographed and superbly acted, this film has me interested in visiting the Czech countryside some day.
The Bad: Well, using the words "The Bad" might be a bit unfair in this case. It's not accurate to sum up this piece as a "bad" movie.
However, I'll be direct and state that I do not recommend it.
I'm aware that a ton of people have raved about how beautiful this film is, and although I agree that certain parts are, as a whole the movie falls short as an effective story.
Zelary will no doubt make you think of Peter Weir's film Witness, in which much of the film deals with Harrison Ford's character living and adjusting to life among the Amish. But in Zelary, we don't see enough of Eliska's life as an educated city-dweller to feel the full shock of her sudden exile.
Furthermore, Ondrej Trojan's film lacks focus. In Witness, the plot involves Harrison Ford protecting a child from the bad guys. That is the central conflict. And as all the character development stuff plays out, in the end, Harrison Ford confronts the bad guys and resolves the story.
Zelary leads us to believe that Eliska's involvement with the anti-Nazi resistance will be a central theme. Since Anna Geislerovà does a great job playing the role of an intelligent woman with a defiant streak, why not treat us to scenes of her making a few heart-pounding escapes as she stays one step ahead of Adolf and his stooges?
Eliska's role in the resistance is mentioned at various moments only to remind us why she's in hiding. However, it never reemerges as a driving force leading to the film's resolution. Instead, as Zelary progresses, we see Eliska either involved in or observing a series of mini-dramas taking place in the village.
Each one, or a few, of those dramas could have been its own movie. And they might have been good ones too! But Trojan tries to cram all of them into one story, thus turning it into a meandering sequence of events rather than a coherent plotline.
Seeing that the film is over two hours long, there are strategically placed sex scenes interspersed throughout to keep us from falling asleep, and I guess that content is supposed to be interpreted as "art."
But what comes off (no pun intended) as a cinematic attempt at creating a nude painting instead winds up having the emotional impact of a Playboy centerfold.
In brief, the story begins with our brave heroine vs. the Nazis, and ends with a shootout between simple townsfolk and intoxicated Russian troops.
Whaaaa???? My thoughts exactly.
Long before the final credits rolled I wondered if Ondrej Trojan might have been working on two different movies and then accidentally spliced them together.
I believe the biggest problem with Zelary is that it's too conscious of what it wants to be. It's deliberate in exploring the themes of isolation, love, devotion, courage, and triumph of the human spirit, and tries way too hard to tell us how we should feel.
(2 out of 4 stars)
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