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Pavel, a young student living in Prague in 1942, hides a Jewish girl in his apartment building's attic. Amidst the brutality of the occupying German army, love blossoms between the two. He is her only link to the outside world. Then the two are discovered by Pavel's mother, who forces the residents of the apartment building to decide whether Hana can remain. Written by
Fiona Kelleghan <email@example.com>
Here we have a love story set in a quadrangled apartment block in Prague during the Second World War, as background the real life assassination of cruel Nazi despot Reinhardt Heydrich, and the resultant inhuman reprisals. By coincidence, a young Jewish refugee, Hanka, arrives at the apartment block a day after her contacts have departed, totally alone, she is befriended by Aryan teenager Pavel who stows her away in a storeroom up in the rafters where he usually develops photos.
There's something very curiously appealing about the motif of the isolated ethereal and quiet Jewess, Hanka in this movie is reminiscent of Rowena in Sir Walter Scott's famous novel Ivanhoe; though speaking in ethnic terms is somewhat of a betrayal of the love between Hanka and Pavel: he points out that terms like Aryan are "their language".
I think that innocence is the prevailing theme, the setting a rather barren and lonely one for such a pretty flower. In my corner of the world teenagers video-message each other home-brew pornography, watch videos of beheadings on the internet and play vandal-simulation computer games. In the world that Jirí Weiss has created/resurrected, the lovers discuss moving to the North Pole, as a day there lasts six months of the year. For them it is a magic place heard of only in books, instead of a place which a group of idiots race to in a four-by-four on television (if you don't teeth with that popular culture reference, consider yourself fortunate).
What's quite realistic in the movie is the way in which love thrives on reliance. Hanka is dead without Pavel, who sells off prize possessions in order to keep her fed. This in counterpoint to modern times, and my corner of the world, where a woman needs a man, as they say, like a fish needs a bicycle, and often romantic love exists, if at all, as a knowing post-ironic pretence rather than as an enveloping universe or the velvet swaddle that it can be. An analogy of Hanka and Pavel's love in the movie is of a binary system, two stars orbiting around one centre of gravity, alone together in vastness. By the by Pavel identifies Proxima Centauri as binary, whereas in fact it is nearby Alpha Centauri which is binary.
Hanka is so curious, she has mysterious aquiline features, and a feeling of comfortable fatalism, if that isn't too odd a thing to say, which is shown in material terms by the ease with which she wears her Star-of-David-tagged overcoat. If you've ever held a small bird you will know this feeling of fragility, hollow bones and feather contribute to a feeling that you're holding a fragile almost-nothingness in your hands. There's something of that in spritely Hanka. I think Pavel is a great and interesting Romeo, he's so gentle and kind, but really powerless, which you can see when a false alarm happens and he almost disintegrates.
The ethnic tensions in the movie are worth exploring, Prague was historically a multicultural city and contained a sizable population of ethnic Germans (Aryans) and also German-speaking Jews. It's therefore not unusual to find a lady in the movie who is Czech by nationality but also speaks fluent German and has taken up with a German Wehrmacht officer. This population of German speakers lived under considerable threat, naturally viewed as collaborators (with varying degrees of accuracy), an end to occupation a threat as much as a relief. Indeed after the war the controversial Bene decrees realised that threat and initiated the forced exile of the majority of the German-speaking population.
There's potentially profit to be gained from comparing this to another Eastern European WWII city under siege, Lwow from Zulawski's The Third Part of the Night (1971). Zulawski's film is all blanched nausea, surreal, fractured, like a fever dream. Romeo, Juliet and Darkness by contrast is more benign, chary of showing violence, sedate and making good use of suggestion and implication, for example the lingering thought of the night-time of six months (which is basically the Heydrich incident). Despite the very innocent and unassuming nature of both the filming, characters and the subject, I think the movie speaks loudly of love and tolerance, and should be commended.
For my friend Claire.
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