ZELARY directed by Ondrej Trojan, written by Petr Jarchovsky, based on the novella by Kveta Legátová, produced by Trojan and Helena Uldrichová, with Anna Geislerová and György Cserhalmi. 142 minutes. A Mongrel Media release. Subtitled. Opens Friday (October 15). For venues and times, see Movies, page 96. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Every year when they announce the Oscar nominations for best foreign-language film, a collective "Huh?" rings out around the world. That is, when people can muster a huh.
Because each country's film bureaucracy nominates just one film for the competition, weird things happen. Pedro Almodóvar gets passed over for a more favoured Spanish film. A white-hot industry like South Korea's offers up its blandest, most lumbering movie. And a whole genre of international filmmaking gets celebrated.
This handsome, sweeping second world war film was the Czech Republic's official entry last year. It went on to score a foreign-language Oscar nomination, then quickly disappeared. (Denys Arcand won for The Barbarian Invasions.)
Zelary might have disappeared, until now, because handsome, sweeping second world war films work better with the Academy than they do with real-world moviegoers.
While the Academy continues to work through the trauma of European fascism, international cinema's moved on. Cast into the current market of Asian and Latin American films, Zelary can't help but look as quaint as a fipple flute.
Anna Geislerová stars as a Prague sophisticate with medical training and ties to the Czech partisan resistance. When her group is exposed, she's forced to flee to a mountain village and marry the rough-hewn farmer to whom she's just donated blood.
Hiding out in the hills, she has first to shed her city clothes, then her city ways, then, inevitably, the emotional shell that keeps her from the arms of her hunky new husband.
This story has been played as comedy, as tragedy and likely as porn. Adapting an autobiographical novella by Kvita Legátová, director Ondrej Trojan offers no new notes here. Most scenes follow the predictable path of a refined woman thrown up against a brute with a good heart.
Even so, Zelary could have been a much stronger film. Trojan bleeds any conflict she might have had with her surroundings far too early, then fails to reveal much new in her character. The result is two hours of premise.
Posters for Zelary are now up in Czech delis around town, and no doubt this story will have deeper resonance if you've lived part of it. That might make it more satisfying to watch, but it won't disperse the stale air around it.