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Overall Rating
3.73

Awesome53.33%
Worth A Look: 6.67%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy: 40%
Sucks: 0%

2 reviews, 3 user ratings


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Divided We Fall
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by Andrew Howe

"Underwritten and overrated"
2 stars

Riding the slipstream of an unexpected success is an old and respected Hollywood tradition. So it is that Star Wars begets Battlestar Galactica, The Sixth Sense begets Stir or Echoes, and Porky's begets films whose names don't bear repeating. However, the strangest bandwagon I've seen in many a long moon is the current European penchant for scripting comedies set during the Holocaust. Life is Beautiful set the ball rolling, Train of Life continued the left-field drive, and now Divided We Fall walks the line between bad taste and affecting odes to the indomitable human spirit.

Whether it's a line worth walking is by no means certain, and Divided We Fall makes a poor case for the defence. Czechoslovakian director Jan Hrebejk's film Cosy Dens won the audience award at the 2000 Sydney Film Festival, and his latest opus was nominated for nothing less than a golden statuette (Best Foreign Language Film) at the 2001 Academy Awards. Unfortunately, I might as well drop my take on Train of Life into the slot and leave it at that, for it exhibits the exact-same flaws that scuttled that particular effort.

For the record, the film concerns itself with Josef (Bolek Polivka) and Marie (Anna Sisková), a husband and wife living under Nazi rule in a small Czechoslovakian village. Josef's erstwhile friend Horst (Jaroslav Dusek) has become a Nazi collaborator, and to make matters worse he harbours a rather public affection for Marie. Matters are complicated by the appearance of David (Csongor Kassai), a Jew who has escaped from the camps, and when Josef agrees to take him in the stage is set for two hours of knee-slapping comedy as our hero attempts to fend off Horst, the Nazis and his fears of violent retribution.

Comedy, as I am known to remark, is definitely a personal preference, and my dislike of physical comedy and borderline-slapstick meant that the film did not elicit so much as a chuckle for its two-hour duration. As an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about, consider the following scene:

David is talking to Marie in her bedroom when Josef, Horst and a high-ranking Nazi official arrive home unexpectedly. Since David faces summary execution if caught (a rather amusing premise for a set-piece if ever I heard one), he dives under the covers. What follows is a scene straight out of a Carry On film - Horst enters the bedroom and makes a move on Marie by kissing her hand (it's actually David's - cue howls of merriment from the audience), then Josef walks in and, realising what's happening, covers it up by leading the Three Stooges in a song of praise for the Third Reich.

Laugh? I almost started.

If that's the kind of thing that tickles your fancy you might find something of merit in that aspect of the script, but it still leaves the little matter of the "triumph of the human spirit" (to quote most of the glowing press the film has received) to attend to. It is here that the film truly drops the ball, for anything it has to say about repression, friendship and love is depressingly superficial.

David is the character with the most to contribute, but he's afforded few lines of dialogue, leaving our trio of supposed heroes to carry the show. Since they don't feel the need to talk or act like real people it's impossible to give a damn about their fates, and any sense of menace is submerged beneath the constant "humorous" interludes (the script even manages to make an attempted rape seem strangely light-hearted). As a result the film's occasional attempts to inject some measure of poignancy into the proceedings comes across as mere lip-service (David's recollection of the fate of his family is a prime example of what I'm talking about), and when the most affecting act of on-screen brutality is the shooting of a dog there's little opportunity to praise Hrebejk for shaking us from our collective complacency.

As director, Hrebejk has an annoying tendency to use a jerky, stop-start filming technique whenever there's any danger in the air, which comes across as merely contrived and dilutes the power of the sequences in question. This leaves us with the performances, which are the film's saving grace - Polivka puts his heart and soul into a character that deserves far less, while Sisková and Dusek are never far behind, and I would be the first in line to catch a film that makes full use of their not-inconsiderable talents.

I truly wish I could offer Hrebejk some kinder words, for anything that reminds us of the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust is a worthwhile undertaking. Unfortunately, uninspired comedic interludes and an absence of depth derail whatever noble intentions he may have possessed, leaving us with an effort that has little to say, and even less idea of the most appropriate way to say it.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5362&reviewer=193
originally posted: 06/21/01 00:41:40
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User Comments

8/08/03 Kerin Gordon This movie moved me so much it lead me to befriend one if the leads. 5 stars
11/16/01 Erwin27 One of the best black comedies that I have seen lately 5 stars
6/23/01 Heather Quirky, humorous, oddball of a movie about a couple hiding a Jew in their home 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  08-Jun-2001

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Jan Hrebejk

Written by
  Petr Jarchovsky

Cast
  Bolek Polivka
  Csongor Kassai
  Jaroslav Dusek
  Anna Siskova
  Jiri Pecha
  Martin Huba



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