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Film review: Divided We Fall

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DIVIDED WE FALL — *** — Boneslav Polivka, Anna Siskova, Jaroslav Dusek, Csongor Kassai, Jiri Kodet; in Czech and German, with English subtitles; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, sex, attempted rape, vulgarity); exclusively at the Tower Theatre.

Maybe this is simplifying things, but it appears that the difference between American war movies and those of foreign filmmakers is that, while the former are often more concerned with showing battle scenes, the latter favor actual stories about flesh-and-blood characters.

There are exceptions, such as Steven Spielberg's multiple-Oscar-winner "Schindler's List," but lately the foreign-made movies have been more effective than their American counterparts, because they've been able to put a "face" on war.

Such is the case with "Divided We Fall," an Oscar-nominated World War II drama from the Czech Republic (its major competition in the Best Foreign Film category was "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which took home a couple of other trophies).

It's not a perfect movie — in fact, some of its plot contrivances make the fact-based story seem too unreal for its own good. But on the whole, it's a well-acted, thoughtful piece that shows what it may have been like living in Nazi-occupied portions of Europe, particularly in ethnically mixed Czechoslovakia.

Among those who are coping with the situation are the Cizeks, a childless couple living in a small Czech town. Josef (Boleslav Polivka) has been out of work after being injured, while Marie (Anna Siskova) patiently waits for him to recover.

The couple is horrified by and opposed to the German atrocities but is powerless to do anything about them. That is, until their Jewish friend, David Weiner (Csongor Kassai), escapes from a concentration camp and turns up seeking shelter.

As expected, they're happy to let David stay in their basement, despite constant threats of discovery — from Josef's former colleague (Jaroslav Dusek), a Nazi collaborator who is making constant, unannounced visits.

From there, the story takes some unexpected and not unwelcome turns. Filmmakers Jan Hrebejk (direction) and Petr Jarchovsky (scripting) do a good job of bringing an off-kilter sensibility to the material.

And smartly, their cast is made up of Czech veterans like Polivka and Dusek (both stars in their home country), as well as newcomer Kassai, who is convincing as the hunted, haunted refugee.

Less successful is the film's use of experimental, high-contrast camera work in a handful of scenes. Though they appear to have been shot in slow-motion, a different technique was used but not to good effect.

"Divided We Fall" is rated PG-13 for wartime violence (much of it overheard), scattered use of profanity, a discreet sex scene, attempted rape and use of vulgar slang terms. Running time: 122 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com