Political Film Society - Newsletter #106 - July 1, 2001

July 1, 2001


Divided We FallDuring the wartime occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis, many tragic and many subtle happenings kept the population on edge. Divided We Fall, directed by Jan Hrebejk, peaks into the window of ambiguity and inhumanity and emerges with considerable healing for the country, quite a feat indeed. Based on the novel Musíme si pomáhat by Pëtr Jarchovsky, the story revolves around David Weiner (played by Csongor Kassai), a Jewish resident, who was deported along with other Jews to concentration camps in 1941. In 1943, David managed, however, to bribe some of his captors in order to return to his ancestral home for some treasures that might serve to provide better treatment for his family. When he arrives back in town, he discovers that his home is reassigned, and a local resident cries out to police that a Jew is loose, so he ends up knocking on the door of Josef and Marie Cizek (played by Boleslav Polívka and Anna Sisková), begging to stay just for a night. The Cizeks, who were once employed by Weiner’s family business, take him in but cannot release him to return to the camp for fear that Nazi authorities will trace his whereabouts to their door. Accordingly, Weiner hides out in the pantry, becoming the Czech equivalent of Anne Frank minus a diary. Horst Prohaska (played by Jaroslav Dusek), a Czech who works for the Nazi occupiers, makes frequent visits to the Cizek residence to provide various necessities in exchange for meals and an opportunity to be with Marie. Since the couple has no children, Prohaska assumes that Marie is sexually frustrated; repeated visits and even a clumsy attempt to force sex fail to capture Marie’s heart, who is devoted to her husband despite his impotence and injured leg. Although Prohaska becomes aware of Weiner’s presence, he does not turn in the Cizeks, believing in the principle "United we stand, divided we fall."

Several predicaments of the town’s residents, typical of the wartime domestic chaos, are identified in the film. We see how ordinary Czechs shunned Nazi collaborators, even frightening Prohaska’s German wife to move to Germany so that she will not suffer when the Nazis retreat from Czechoslovakia. Albrecht Kepke, a Czech collaborator (played by Martin Huba), lives well until his teenage son goes off to fight for the Nazis but deserts the army, whereupon he is removed from his post, becomes homeless, is humiliated publicly, and begs to be reassigned to live with the Cizeks. When Marie fibs that she is pregnant, so the extra room will be reserved for a new baby, Kepke is assigned to other living quarters. But Josef then begs Marie to have Weiner impregnate her so that she will indeed carry a child. At the critical moment when Marie is in labor, the Nazis have been defeated. The German medical doctor in town is rounded up. As suspected collaborators, Prohaska and Josef are also arrested by a troika of the Czech underground, the Soviet army, and the new Czech civilian authorities. Josef then claims that he has harbored a Jew, and thus that he was not a true Nazi collaborator, and that Prohaska is a physician who is needed to handle the birth of the child, once again following the "United we stand, divided we fall" principle. The tension in the film about Nazi ruthlessness is mitigated by lively music, comedy relief, and the joy of seeing the Nazis tasting defeat. The comedy is situational, and the serious message comes through loud and clear. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Divided We Fall as best film of 2001 on peace, showing how closing ranks in the face of adversity is a far superior strategy to turning in friends and neighbors to gain points with heartless oppressors. MH

If you enjoy the music of Gustav Mahler, Bride of the Wind is a rare treat. In Songcatcher, a fictional musicology professor from Columbia University goes to the Blue Ridge Mountains and discovers pure versions of sixteenth century songs from the British Isles, subsequently known as hillbilly music.