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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

Zelary
Directed by Ondrej Trojan
Sony Pictures Classics 09/04 DVD/VHS Feature Film
R - violence, some sexual content

During the 1940s, the Nazis occupy Czech lands and have made life miserable for everyone. Eliska (Ana Geislerova) has been forced to return to nursing because the medical school she was going to attend has been shut down. She works in a big city hospital alongside Richard Littner (Ivan Trojan), her lover who is a surgeon. They are also involved in the resistance movement with their colleague Dr. Chladek (Jan Hrusinsky). However, when things go awry, Richard flees the country and the resistance decides that the only safe place for Eliska is with a patient she recently gave blood to save. Joza (Gyorgy Cserhalmi) is a big-hearted man who lives alone in the mountain community of Zelary. It is evident on their arrival in a small town near their destination that Eliska's urban dress and appearance set her apart from others. When they finally get to his cottage, she asks "Where’s the yard?" and he replies quite baffled, "Everywhere."

At first, Eliska rebels against the changes she must make in order to survive in a close-knit community where nearly everyone knows that she is an outsider. She slowly realizes that there is no other choice but to marry Joza and stay with him until the war is over. It is a long and hard process for these two strangers to adjust to each other when they have absolutely nothing in common. He is very patient with her, understanding that she will learn to live in her new surroundings at her own pace. Eventually, Eliska becomes Hana. She befriends an outspoken little boy who is hated by a disciplinarian principal at school and banned from his home by his violent and alcoholic stepfather. When the community's midwife learns that Hana has nursing skills, they become allies. Although Eliska and Joza try to nurture their own small share of happiness, the struggles and tensions within the community keep intruding. And the war refuses to go away as random killings in the area bring fear into everyone's household.

Zelary was Czechoslovakia's 2003 entry for the Academy Awards and was nominated in the Best Foreign Language category. Ondrej Trojan directs the story, which was inspired by actual events in Kvita Legatova's autobiographical novel Jozo Vahanule. It is a convincing portrait of the resilience needed to survive in a world of constant danger. Further, it proves that there is no safety anywhere given the human propensity for violence. Ana Geislerova puts in a stellar performance in the lead role.

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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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