Zelary

There's a grinding predictability to this handsome, 2003 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee from the Czech Republic, and the fact that it's based on a true story doesn't make it feel any less trite. It's the early 1940s, and sophisticated urbanite Eliska (Ana Geislerova), who once planned to become a doctor, now works as a nurse in a large Czechoslovakian...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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There's a grinding predictability to this handsome, 2003 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee from the Czech Republic, and the fact that it's based on a true story doesn't make it feel any less trite. It's the early 1940s, and sophisticated urbanite Eliska (Ana Geislerova), who once planned to become a doctor, now works as a nurse in a large Czechoslovakian hospital. The ever-expanding Third Reich put an end to Eliska's original career plans when they closed the universities, but her sense of duty to her fellow Czechs endured: Eliska and her lover, Richard (Ivan Trojan), are both actively involved with the resistance movement. That, too, comes to an end with a frightening Gestapo crack-down. Richard suddenly disappears and Eliska is told that she must leave town immediately, assume a new identity and never, ever come back. The plan is that Eliska will accompany one of her patients, the hulking, mountain woodsman Jozsa (Gyorgy Cserhalmi), back to Zelary, his remote village tucked high in the Czech countryside. Grateful Jozsa, who was seriously injured in an accident and would have died if Eliska hadn't donated her blood to his recovery, is more than willing to make the dangerous journey, even though it will mean death if they're ever caught by the Gestapo. Eliska, however, isn't so sure; they'll have to marry if she's to stay with her protector, and as picturesque as Eliska's new surroundings might be, Jozsa's house is little more than a dirt-floored cabin with no running water or electricity. But Eliska, renamed "Hana," has little choice but to live the rest of her life not as a big-city doctor, but as the humble, babushka-wrapped wife of a sawmill worker. Would it come as a surprise to learn that they eventually fall in love? Once they do Eliska's conflict is effectively resolved and so, having dramatized their heroine's story well beyond its limited narrative possibilities, director Ondrej Trojan and screenwriter Petr Jarchovsky turn their attention to the other denizens of Zelary. They include an adorable little girl (Anna Vertelarova) and her self-sufficient, widowed mother (Iva Bittova); the school principal (Jaroslav Dusek) who confides the state of his soul to the village priest (Miroslav Donutil); the abusive drunkard (Ondrej Koval) who beats his wife (Tatiana Vajdova) and son (Tomas Zatecka) and threatens to expose Eliska; the salty midwife (Jaroslava Adamova) who gives Eliska a different kind of medical education. Unfortunately, none of them is given sufficient screen time to develop into a fleshed-out character, and their subplots amount to little more than irritating distractions.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: R
  • Review: There's a grinding predictability to this handsome, 2003 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee from the Czech Republic, and the fact that it's based on a true story doesn't make it feel any less trite. It's the early 1940s, and sophisticated urbanite El… (more)

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