From Oscar-winning Czech filmmaker Jan Sverak (“Kolya”), here’s a terrifically involving and inventive WWII drama — funny, romantic and ultimately moving.
It tells the story of Franta (Ondrej Vetchy), a Czech pilot who, with his protege Karel (Krystof Hadek), escapes his home country when the Nazis invade. They flee to Britain to help the Allies. There they both fall for the same woman (Tara Fitzgerald) while piloting missions with other Czech expats. But upon their return home, they’re met with suspicion — and imprisonment — by the Russian liberators.
Don’t worry, that doesn’t even come close to describing the story! This film works best in its details, not in the rather conventional plotline. There is real life in these characters — an edgy, earthy honesty that draws us into the story and moves us strongly without ever becoming mawkish or obvious.
The film is a terrific combination of cutting edge effects (outtakes from the 1969 classic “The Battle of Britain” are seamlessly integrated), terrific acting and a strong series of events. Three-time Czech best actor Vetchy is superb as Franta, energetic and engaging, yet hardly perfect! And as his pal Karel, Hadek brings just the right combination of boyish charm and astonishing heroism.
The film looks wonderful, capturing the period with texture and palpable emotion, although the cross-cutting between two time periods is a bit confusing at times. It never takes the obvious cinematic routes; this feels like a classic movie, as opposed to the revisionist stuff we’ve been force-fed lately. And even if most of the film is in Czech, it’s hardly a foreign film; this is our common history, and it’s a film well worth looking out for.