Divided We Fall

Sep 12, 2001 at 12:00 am

Set in Czechoslovakia during World War II, Divided We Fall is the story of how an average and decidedly unheroic couple manages to do an extraordinarily heroic thing. Its tone is reminiscent of those Czech films that emerged during the country’s briefly liberalized ’60s, a combination of despair, low comedy, raunchiness and a feeling for the sometimes grotesque resourcefulness of people living in difficult times.

Josef Cizek (Boleslav Polivka) and his wife Marie (Anna Siskova) seem determined to live out the war in their Nazi-occupied country by keeping a low profile and not making waves. Josef, especially, feels that if he just minds his own business, the war will be something that passes outside his apartment window, leaving him and Marie untouched. So when young David (Csonger Kassai), the son of his prewar Jewish employer and an escapee from a concentration camp, shows up seeking shelter in the Cizek apartment, Josef’s first reaction is pained reluctance. But though he’s lazy, cynical and self-absorbed, he’s not immune to human suffering — and soon David is a permanent resident, hidden away in a spare room.

The Cizeks’ dangerous situation (if they were caught harboring a Jew, the whole neighborhood would be taken out and shot) is intensified because an old friend of theirs, Horst (Jaroslav Dusek, who looks like a baby-faced Anthony Hopkins), has become a Nazi collaborator. Horst is given to dropping in unexpectedly — he thinks knocking on the door and yelling “Gestapo!” is a great joke — and he manages to keep the couple, and the audience, on edge. Matters are further complicated because Horst has a mad crush on Marie, and no amount of unreturned friendship is going to keep him away.

This is a movie where the plot continually thickens and while some of the turns, especially toward the end, may seem a bit contrived, its lack of stock heroes and villains is refreshing. The horrible Horst, in particular, is a nicely layered character — you can see the picked-on child who was father to the man in the way he wears his new authority like an oversized suit, relishing his position but still too insecure to become an effective bully. He knows what the filmmakers know — that in truly perilous times even the bad guys aren’t safe.

Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].