Dark Blue World

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

DARK BLUE WORLD

5/10

Tmavomodry Svet : Czech Rep/Germany/UK 2001 : Jan Sverak : 119 mins

Nearly 60 years on,it’s depressing that so many film makers keep returning to the subject of World War II: especially if the results are as so-so as Dark Blue World. The new angle is that we follow the fortunes of two Czech pilots – youthful Karel (Krystof Hadek) and seasoned veteran Frantisek (Ondrej Vetchy) – who,

after the fall of their country to the Nazis, escape to fly with the RAF in Britain. This being a movie, of course, they both have to fall in love with the same woman, Susan (Tara Fitzgerald) – first Karel, who goes MIA, allowing Frantisek to step in. So far, so Pearl Harbor.

But while the Bruckheimer blockbuster often felt like a cynical exercise in brash Hollywood excess, Dark Blue World is a much more likeable, heart-in-the-right-place kind of affair. Both Czechs are strong, unusual screen presences, and the latent homoerotic angle to their relationship is almost allowed to bubble to the surface: “I was so worried that I’d lose you,” Frantisek remarks as the pair lie side by side on the floor, the camera angle making it look as though they’re in bed together.

Nothing comes of this, of course – Dark Blue World is, for all the Saint-Exupery mysticism promised by its title, a very old-fashioned, directorially earthbound enterprise, all too suitable for undemanding Sunday afternoon TV, with wall-to-wall background music and moments of pleasant but over-familiar character-based comedy among the aerial heroics. It’s often quite shamelessly manipulative – Frantisek’s mournful dog is milked for all he’s worth – but in an endearing way that never becomes too saccharine. Indeed, Zdenek Sverak’s script is strongest on how the pure headlong suddenness of wartime leaves the participants no time to dwell on the mysteries of fate, love, death or comradely valour.

The biggest miscalculation, however, is to continually interrupt the British-based derring-do for gloomy flash-forward glimpses of Frantisek’s time in one of the post-war prison camp to which the Czech patriots were sent by the conquering Russians. The shocking treatment of the valiant fliers is, of course, a valid subject for a film – but not this film, and the grinding gulag misery puts a downer on even the most upbeat sequences. The other notable misjudgement is the underuse of Anna Massey who, though restricted to the briefest of cameos as a teacher, packs in an amazing amount of humour, poignancy and sheer British pluck.


15th March, 2002
(seen 24th January, Cineworld Milton Keynes)

For the newer, shorter review click here

by Neil Young
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