Zelary (8/10)

by Tony Medley

A nurse, Eliska/Hana (Anna Geislerová) due to her minimal participation in the Czech Resistance in 1943, is forced to flee to the mountains, where she must live with Joza (György Cserhalmi), a simple man to whom she has given blood that saved his life.

At 148 minutes, I thought this was going to be interminable. In fact, I kept thinking that I would leave. But I wanted to stay just a little longer to see the outcome of what was happening and then I’d leave. But then I wanted to see what was going to happen next and then I’d leave. When it was over I hadn’t left.

Director Ondrej Trojan has captured a place, Zelary, that seems as if it was frozen in time for 150 years. This is where Hana must live to avoid the Nazis. Since she’s a gorgeous young woman who only yesterday had a hot love life in a Capitol city, Prague, the world into which she moves is not just a little depressing.

It’s not just Joza with whom she must learn to live, it’s also the rest of the villagers, many of whom do not look kindly upon her. Some view her as a danger and others look upon her lasciviously. And it’s not only Anna who has to learn to adjust, it’s not easy on Joza, either. Trojan treats these complex relationships brilliantly with the help of a fine script by Kveta Legátová, based on a novel by Jozova Hanule.

Compounding the difficulties of the lives of Anna and Joza and the other villagers is the underlying fear that the Nazis will come upon them. For most of the film their mountain hideaway seems untouched by the war, but there’s always the fear that it won’t remain so because the war is going on all around them.

Making the film even more astounding, Geislerová and Cserhalmi, who both give compelling performances, don’t speak the same languages. She speaks Czech and he speaks Hungarian, and the film was shot with each speaking their own language. Ever the pro, when asked how she overcame the language barrier, she said, “The only thing I need from a partner is that our eyes understand one another. That’s enough.”

The cinematography (Asen Sopov) is exceptional. The film was shot over the space of a year, spanning all four seasons, and in each of the seasons we feel the weather. The location often reminded me of the locale of the song “Do-re-mi” in The Sound of Music (1965).

This is really a remarkable, satisfying movie, one that was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2003, but you definitely have to be in the mood.  In Czech, Russian, Hungarian, and German with subtitles.

August 23, 2004

The End