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Czech Republic 2001
Directed by
Jan Hrebejk
117 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Jim Thomson
3.5 stars

Divided We Fall

Synopsis: In small German-occupied town in Czechoslovakia, married couple Josef (Boleslav Polivka) and Marie (Anna Siskova) Cizek hide David (Csongor Kassai), a Jewish family friend, in their pantry for the duration of the Second World War.

What's this? Another comedy set in WW2? Well, why the hell not, after all Roberto Begnigni's 1998 holocaust romp Life is Beautiful killed 'em at the box office. However, in comparison to Divided We Fall the former comes up looking like a remarkably calculated affair. While Life is Beautiful took the somewhat more difficult option of setting its story within the walls of a concentration camp, much of the humour was derived from laughing at the plight of the protagonists, especially the clown-like antics Begnigni's character resortd to while protecting his son.

Director Jan Hrebejk's chooses instead to infuse Divided We Fall with the respect the subject matter deserves. In this instance the protagonists share our laughter. Instead of being the joke, they simply let us in on it. Principally though, this is a well-balanced presentation of a group of people who do what they must to survive. Josef's callous disregard for the needs of David is a justifiable reaction to the situation in which he willingly placed himself, while the character of Nazi collaborator, Horst (Jaroslav Dusek), is painted in shades of grey. At once a swine and a lovelorn fool, he is just one element in the successful combination of multi-layered characters this film provides.

Kassai's performance as the patiently resigned David is a particular standout. While Josef and Horst run around bemoaning their situation, David's tale of his sister's chance for salvation within the concentration camp puts everything instantly into perspective. And while the final twenty minutes seems inconsistently forced, it (perhaps a little too) neatly ties together the disparate narrative strands which have grown increasing frayed as the war reaches its climax.

Nevertheless, Divided We Fall is an intelligent and touching dramatic comedy. Hrebejk tellingly presents the futility of war through his fine cast and crisp direction, although his unusual reliance on what effectively becomes airbrushed camera work does begin to work against the film towards the end. The true strength of Divided We Fall, however, lies in its transcendence of stereotypes, effectively disarming our preconceptions and paving the way for a broader, if somewhat too tidy, understanding of the inevitable fallout when humanity is placed under fire.




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