Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
The renaissance of Czech cinema continues with another fine film from the writer and director of last year’s Cosy Dens. This subtly variegated comedy of anxiety concerns a gentile couple who harbour an escaped Jewish prisoner in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.
The film opens in 1937. David, a wealthy young Jew, and Josef, his father’s secretary, play a prank on their chauffeur, Horst. Several years later everything has changed. David and his family have been deported by the Germans. Josef and his wife Marie are trying their best to keep out of trouble and to deal with the bitter disappointment of Josef’s sterility. Horst is working for the SS.
When David escapes from Theresienstadt and shows up, like a ghost, on their doorstep, Josef and Marie are terrified, but see no alternative but to hide him. Horst, in the meantime, has become a frequent visitor to their little apartment. Could it be that he knows their secret? Forced increasingly into contact with Horst and his collaborator buddies, Josef and Marie are soon taken for collaborators themselves…
Divided We Fall is an astonishing balancing act, blending farce with nervy suspense, culminating in a breathless climax where tension resides not so much in beating the clock, as in figuring out what political colours the cavalry might be wearing today. In a uniformly convincing cast Boleslav Polívka as Josef seems bound to win the most hearts. Lethargic and bemused by the abounding contradictions that surround him, Josef is in danger of blowing his cover with a yawn. At the mercy of his own sense of irony, he makes a very civilised, reluctant hero. — Bill Gosden
Mr Hrebejk and Mr Jarchovsky, working in the rich Czech tradition of absurdist humanism, construct a universe booby-trapped with impossible choices and ethical puzzles… The characters are too richly peculiar to be allegorical marionettes, and the cast – especially the ungainly, dough-faced Mr Polívka – performs with such subtlety and ingenuity that all sense of narrative artifice vanishes…
Divided We Fall is pervaded with humor that serves not to sentimentalize or sugarcoat the monstrosity of Naziism, but to explain it. The filmmakers explore not only the banality of evil, but also the banality of goodness, and the ridiculousness, as well as the tragedy, of their collision. — A.O. Scott, NY Times, 8/6/01