The one great thing about WWII - there are still rich stories coming out of it. "Divided We Fall" is a film by Czechoslovakian director, Jan Hrebejk, which tells the true story of a childless couple in a small Czech town who find themselves making some dangerous choices in hiding a Jewish man in their pantry for two years.
Boleslav Polivka plays Josef, a man who has been living on disability and spends most of his time taking naps. His lovely wife, Marie, played by Anna Siskova, looks after him dutifully all the while praying to the Madonna to bring them a child.
Their quiet life is continuously interrupted by the unannounced visits from Josef's ex-co-worker and supposed friend, Horst, who is excited by the Third Reich and, in fact, wears a Hitler-style moustache. Horst is laughable, obnoxious and scary.
In the beginning of the film, Josef, Horst and others help their boss, a Jew, and his family pack and travel to their new state-appointed "camp" – the Czechs do not yet realize what this means and assume they will return. Once the youngest son, David, escapes from the hellhole where his family's perished, he returns to Josef for help. After much panicking, the couple stashes David in the pantry – along with a giant pig carcass – until the danger clears.
Meanwhile, Marie encourages Josef to take the job that Horst has been offering for months with the new regime. Though he is loathe to fraternize with Nazis, Josef decides that the best cover would be undercover – though it doesn't exactly elevate him in the disapproving eyes of his neighbors, who suddenly begin crossing the street to avoid him.
When Horst makes untoward advances on Marie and she rejects him, he exacts revenge by trying to move a Nazi clerk into their home. On the spot, Marie fibs a pregnancy and insists they'll be needing the extra room for the nursery. What she doesn't realize is that that very day, Josef paid a visit to the doctor and received word of his sterility. "You need to get pregnant," Josef admonishes her, "and fast." There is only one solution: David.
The characters – everyone from an innocent housewife to a Nazi officer - are imperfect and capable of realization and growth. There is so much frenzy and chaos much of the time that the one solid rock in the middle of it all is David, the quiet, tortured man who is shy, unassuming and supposed to be dead. Played by Csongor Kassai, David exhibits such strength of love and depth of patience, it's hard to believe the fear that his existence can evoke in the lives of good people like Josef and Marie. How can this be?
With a strong script, wonderful actors and an intense plot, the film is a masterpiece of mixed emotions. Though it deals with war and death, there is enough comic relief not to feel drained after leaving the theatre; the film, in fact, is a triumph. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, "Divided We Fall" conquers much.
© 2004 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 6/20/01
Divided We Fall
Czech Republic - 2000