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:: Divided We Fall (Musime Si Pomahat)

If, like me, you balk at the thought of yet another film about WW2, particularly one with the almost ubiquitous Oscar nominations, do not be put off seeing Divided We Fall. Winner of the Most Popular Film at the Sydney Film festival, Divided We Fall manages to do what so few of the recent Holocaust films have been able to achieve- that is, humour without belittlement, characters that are complicated, Nazi’s that are not just Seig Heiling cardboard cut outs of evil and heroes that are as flawed as the next man. This beautifully crafted film beguiles with its simplicity until before you know it you are inveigled in a very complex situation with characters you love.

It begins in 1937 in a small Czech village. Short, perfectly chosen moments show the beginning of the war in the microcosm of one Jewish family as they are moved from one place to the next, and finally, the one place that they will not return from. We all know the big picture of World War Two and director Jan Hrebejk doesn’t bore us by going over it again, instead we see its effects on a very small number of people as one member of that family escapes and is hidden by a former employee and his wife, played with extraordinary humanity by Boleslav Polivka as Josef Cizek and Anna Siskova as Marie. They have spent the war trying to avoid it, with Josef asleep on the couch most of the time, grumbling ineffectually, whilst Marie struggles with the fact that they cannot have children. The consequences of their act of decency tangle into ramifications they could never have foreseen as they deal with trying to save their own lives whilst being unwilling to sacrifice the life of another.

The fact that humour shines throughout all this is a testament to the strong script and the assured direction. The tense scenes are shot at twelve frames per second instead of the usual twenty-four and are used to great effect, thereby making the humourous moments even more necessary. No one comes out of this film, as with the war, clean. The resistance fighters are not so brave on their own front door step, and the Nazi collaborator is not so quick to turn his friends in. The hero is not so gracious about his heroism and uses it for his own ends. We get only glimpses of the torment of the young man they have taken in, but they are enough. Our imaginations and the scores of other documentary and cinematic images fill in the blanks better than this film ever could.

It is a very emotional journey yet ultimately offers hope as Nazis are defeated and Czechoslovakia begins to rebuild itself. The brief moments of surrealism add a magical feeling as, after all, life can still be beautiful.

Screening at Lumiere Cinemas and Classic Cinemas