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By Rich Cline | March 3, 2004

Nominated for the foreign film Oscar for 2000, this superb Czech drama uses black comedy and a tricky story structure to give us wonderfully honest glimpse of the Nazi occupation. Josef and Marie (Polivka and Siskova) are a upstanding couple in their town, but everyone is on edge with the Nazis around. And soon Josef and Marie have more reason than most to be nervous: They are hiding thier old friend David (Kassai), a Jewish concentration camp escapee. And their nerves are frayed even more by their nosey collaborator friend Horst (Dusek). To deflect suspicion, Josef takes a job with Horst working for the Germans. But he’s going to have to take an even more drastic, unthinkable action to get the Germans off his back forever.
Hrebejk and Jarchovsky’s bright storytelling never undercuts the life-or-death tone. Rather, it makes the film fascinating and vivid, never falling into other WWII movie traps. There’s a real blast of life here that keeps us thoroughly engaged with the story and characters, as well as such rarely touched-upon themes as taking care of those around us. But even more powerful is the complex examination of cowardice and heroism–and where the two are indistinguishable. At times, every character is both brave and terrified, and the performances are fantastic–especially Dusek’s mercurial Horst … funny and terrifying, villainous and generous. The clever script weaves these characters together in such a marvellous way that it nearly takes our breath away at the end. Without ever being simplistic or obvious, it ties up all the loose ends brilliantly to give us both a powerfully effective drama and a remarkably honest look at life in wartime.

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