Ondřej Trojan's Oscar-nominated melodrama looks good but lacks punch

Director: Ondřej Trojan
Writer: Petr Jarchovský
Starring: Aňa Geislerová, György Cserhalmi

Želary shows the Czech film industry can hang with the European big boys when it comes to mounting handsome World War II melodramas. Indeed, it's a model of tasteful Quality Filmmaking of the sort that attracts respectful attention and Oscar nominations (as it did); change the language and setting and you can easily imagine it as a vehicle for Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. But for all its merits it never quite clutches the gut, despite a compelling (and loosely fact-based) storyline. Forced into hiding when her resistance-fighter lover is captured by the Nazis, Prague sophisticate Eliška (Aňa Geislerová) is trundled off to a remote village-that-time-forgot to take up residence as the wife of a taciturn mountain man (György Cserhalmi). Cultures clash, seasons change and love blooms amid the encroaching armies and ever-present threat of exposure.

Like the film itself, Geislerová is luminous, proficient and faintly cold to the touch; her Eliška always seems at a slight emotional remove even as she warms to country life. Cserhalmi, a longtime star in Hungary, gives a fine low-key performance, and there are gripping moments when underlying tensions and suspicions burst through the tiny community's seemingly placid surface. But these are spread too thinly across the film's ample 142 minutes, and in between are too much pat characterization and sun-lit nostalgic haze. (For a keener, more nuanced evocation of the intimate emotional toll of occupation, see the roughly contemporary Divided We Fall, also written by Petr Jarchovský). Worthy and watchable, but ultimately Želary's polish outweighs its passion.

Year: 2003
Runtime: 2 hours, 22 minutes

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