By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Želary was the Czech Oscar contender for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004 and is set in WWII. Eliška (Aňa Geislerová), a nurse and rebel messenger, is forced into hiding from the Nazis after members of her group are exposed and persecuted. With her life at stake, she is forced to integrate into village life and marry Joza (György Cserhalmi), a local farmer she barely knows. Hesitant at first, Eliška eventually adapts to her new identity and becomes a strong foundation for the village of Želary.
In many ways, Želary is a war epic but without the big budget war scenes. It’s WWII as experienced by most in Central Europe, those in the villages. Director Ondrej Trojan manages to capture traditional village life extremely well, those who have seen the classic Slunce Seno comedies saw the quirky side to village life, but this is something much more traditional – familiar to Czechs and Slovaks, and fascinating to foreigners like myself.
Although this is a drama, there are still some lighter moments. Trojan manages to capture humanity in all its form and glory and provides us with a decent balance. Famous Czech actress Jaroslava Adamová is wonderful as older woman Lucka, the glue of the community and also the comic relief.
Geislerová, a Prague local (if you don’t know who she is already, then you’re probably living under a rock), is probably one of the most famous Czech actresses and is renowned for her award winning performances and down-to-earth personality. Želary brought her international attention and she was also awarded a Czech Lion (the award not the cat) for Best Actress.
Želary is available in most formats with English subtitles.
Photo: Slant Magazine