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In World War II Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia, a childless couple, Josef and Marie Cizek, can only watch while the Jewish family of their employers, the Wieners, are first removed from their own home to a spare room in their house by the Nazis, then deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Years later, young David Wiener, the sole surviving member of that family has managed to escape and make it to the Cizeks. Although fully aware of the extreme danger of harbouring a Jew in the Third Reich, the Cizek's can not permit themselves to leave David to certain death and agree to hide him. However, this decision leads to terrible danger of discovery by the Nazis and especially their friend and Nazi collaborator, Horst Prohazka, who is attracted to Marie. With desperate cleverness and luck, the Cizeks struggle to keep the secret, even when Horst begins to suspect. In doing so, they find themselves making unorthodox choices and learning about the true nature of the people around them. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
This film is a beautiful and haunting picture of Czech life during WWII. Particularly, non-Jewish, non-Nazi Czechs, although each of those groups are represented as well. The last few scenes of the film are ultimately a relief because, in light of the film's title 'Divided We Fall', the viewer half expects a pro-Communist forces message. This is not the case. The united Communist army representatives are shown as just as cruel to Nazis and Nazi sympathizers (even those who concede without a fight) as the Nazis were to... well ... nearly everybody. The title is, mercifully, not a political agenda, but a call for love and forgiveness - in this case, within what was once a peaceful and functional Czech community before Nazi occupation.
My only qualm with this film regards the way that the camerawork becomes unsteady and at a lower framerate whenever there is potential fatal danger to any of the characters. I appreciate that when we apprehend a very real danger, our perspective does indeed change to a nearly surreal state. However this cannot translate into the cinematic device employed in this movie, simply because the technique is used not only for when one person becomes scared, nor even only for when any character is scared, but when the AUDIENCE becomes sympathetically scared for the character(s), whether the character(s) knows what's happening or not! Thus, it seems pointless - or at least, it doesn't give the audience enough credit to know when they should be scared simply by how the story is unfolding. Personally, I'd rather a filmmaker flatter my intelligence by assuming I know the score, rather than point it out to me every time.
That qualm, however, is not as dire as it seems. Throughout, the movie retains its gracefulness, its fine pacing, and its delicate and unnerving balance between serene and severe, poetic and panicked. As an example, for a moment the picnic scene seems quiet, peaceful, lyrical, until we are suddenly (but without being hit over the head by daunting music or fast editing to drive the point home) reminded of the sickeningly casual scrupulousness of so many Nazis.
The movie is also extremely well acted. In one scene, Josef, Horst, and a high-ranking Nazi show up suddenly to the apartment which is central to the film. David, caught out of the pantry, dives under the covers with Marie to hide. Horst, probably a little drunk already, comes in and hits on the supposedly bedridden Marie, whose face succesfully commingles her disgust with Horst, her fear of being found out, and her discomfort (physical and ideological) with David lying right on top of her. This is immediately followed by another fine piece of acting when Josef steps into the doorframe, sees what's going on (i.e. that David is under the sheets), and goes from shock to fear to panic to decisiveness, suddenly breaking into a manic drunken look and dancing foolishly and singing a 'funny' Nazi song. His pretended drunken revelry is a ploy to distract Horst and the Nazi officer. Here, as many other times in the film, the line between life and death is suddenly, palpably a hair's breadth away - and yet without any guns fired, pointed, or even drawn. Another interesting theme throughout the film is the lies and deceptions by the good people in order to save one another, contrasted with the situations in which someone's honesty would condemn his friends. Sometimes it's ok, even necessary, to lie.
I don't want to spoil anything, but the ending of the film is a little odd. Yet I wholly embrace it. Film is an art form, and so it is allowed to employ a non-literal ending for the purpose of meaning. If you are put off by such unreal scenes, I suggest you watch less Jerry Bruckheimer movies from now on.
This film is, overall, a masterpiece. It is visually beautiful, has a moving and well-crafted story, and is certainly the best Europe-during-the-holocaust film that never shows you a ghetto or a concentration camp. The other best Europe-during-the-holocaust films, which do show these places, are Schindler's List, Life is Beautiful, and The Pianist. I recognize that Divided We Fall is much harder to find for sale or rent than these other 3 films, but really, everyone should watch all 4. I firmly believe that the more well-made films you see on the subject, the more understanding you'll have, and with these four combined, you get four different flavours: Czech, Polish, Italian, and American (about a German, among others). Divided We Fall is not to be missed.
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