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Friday, October 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Tom Keogh
Love and survival go hand in hand in "Zelary," a handsome Czech film about a Nazi resister who trades her familiar life in 1943 Prague for a much older, rural culture and a husband she barely knows in the Moravian highlands.
Eliksa (Anna Geislerová) is a nurse who doubles as a courier for the Czech Resistance. Her comrade and lover, Richard (Ivan Trojan), shares her anxiety about being arrested. When their cell is found out, Richard flees Czechoslovakia and a reluctant Eliksa (given new identity papers as "Hana") is smuggled into a remote village called Zelary in the company of Joza (György Cserhalmi), a mill worker she recently treated in a Prague hospital.
Joza, an oak-sturdy, Gary Cooper type who doesn't think twice about rescuing Hana, leads her to his backcountry hamlet and moves into an abandoned house with no running water or electricity. He also marries Hana. For the most part, old friends and neighbors don't openly challenge Joza's cover story that he acquired his urbane, attractive bride by happenstance, despite the fact that any of them could be hanged by German soldiers as Resistance collaborators.
Hana, disoriented and angry, sleeps apart from Joza with a pair of scissors under her pillow. One could assume, understandably, that "Zelary" (adapted from a novella and based on a true story) is about the viability of this mismatched couple. Can love possibly flourish by the film's third act?
Well, surprise. In no time, these two can't keep their hands off each other and enjoy an abiding respect and affection. With that question answered, the 150-minute "Zelary" begins resembling something like "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," an episodic story embracing the woes and joys of many characters in the community. Director Ondrej Trojan and a strong cast keep the whole shebang interesting (though not fascinating), punctuated by sweet moments of camaraderie and companionship. When everything goes to hell during a rampage by drunken partisans, the bonds between these people, including Hana, pay off quite powerfully.
Ultimately, "Zelary" is about the ephemeral, anecdotal nature of happiness. From the moment they meet, Joza and Hana look like the stuff of future memory.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org
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