Divided We Fall

"Essential"

Divided We Fall Review


Just when you think you've seen all the World War II films you can handle, one comes along that leaves you in awe. Perhaps because Divided We Fall focuses on common citizens in an occupied Czechoslovakia instead of shouting about how Jews died (and I grew up Jewish, so this is not anti-Semitism talking), it stands out as a poignant, compelling story.

Josef and Marie Cizek (Boleslav Polivka and Anna Siskova) are an average married couple. Over the past few years (judiciously covered during the opening credits) they have watched the rights of their neighbors and work peers slowly taken away as Nazi rule increases. The son of a co-worker, David Wiener (Csongor Kassai), miraculously escaped the work camps of Poland and the reclusive Josef is disgusted enough with societal conditions that he takes the young man in.

It is only after David is safely stowed away in the cellar that the consequences of harboring a Jew weigh on the Cizeks. If they turn him in, they will still be open to persecution for sympathizing, not that they have the heart to do so. Yet forcing him to live in a stuffy closet seems just as inhumane and allowing him to leave is certain death. To add to the stress, Josef's previous co-worker, Horst (Jaroslav Dusek), is becoming a full-fledged Nazi in his effort to stay alive. Not only does he often overstay his unannounced visits, but he attempts to utilize his increasing status to make passes at Marie.

What ensues is an emotionally staggering portrayal of cultural predicaments based on the various depths people stoop to during a time of crisis. It's impossible to predict the consequences of your actions when every day is this precarious. You pretend to believe or join any group, and with enough practice you convince yourself of its righteousness, to prove yourself or remain anonymous to tyrants you didn't ask for.

Not that any of these theories are ever explicit, thanks to an admirably crisp, well-paced script. The focus is on everyday life, not on exploiting a dramatic situation to jerk tears from an audience.

Engagingly, Josef is not a perfect humanitarian martyr. He is not placed on a moral pedestal for taking in a refugee but often rages against his own beloved wife out of fear of discovery. This isn't Jakob the Liar or Life is Beautiful. And just as fitting, Marie may seem the meek housewife, but a quiet adaptability shines through, such as when she convincingly lies to an officer.

Divided doesn't fall into the standard plot devices of its genre. Though David and Marie spend every day together when Josef starts working again and they have been fighting, the clichéd love triangle is appropriately absent. When predictable resolutions to some of the predicaments do occur, they are well-earned.

Surprising for a period piece, Divided also lacks in the melodramatic dialogue usually present in wartime stories. Conversation is spare and often void of emotion, allowing the desperation to seep through naturally, complimenting the neurotic environment.

Divided We Fall was understandably nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language picture. Its depiction of wartime survival portrays human frailty with an originality unseen recently in its peers.

Aka Musíme si pomáhat.

This dog's gonna fly!



Divided We Fall

Facts and Figures

Run time: 117 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 16th March 2000

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 55 Rotten: 6

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Jan Hrebejk

Starring: Bolek Polívka as Josef Cízek, as Marie Cizková, as David Wiener, as Horst Prohaska, Martin Huba as Dr. Albrecht Kepke, Jiří Pecha as Frantisek Simácek, Simona Stašová as Libuse Simácková, as Dr. Fischer-Rybáf, as Captain, as SS Officer

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