Dark Blue World



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

Czechoslovakia, 1950: the communists sequester ‘enemies of the people’ in forced-labour camps. These include the patriotic pilots who flew in the Czech squadron of the RAF during the war, such as fortyish Frantisek (Ondrej Vetchy). He relieves his misery by flashing back to 1939, when he fled the invading Nazis with his youthful compatriot Karel (Krystof Hadek). Karel – perhaps named in homage to real-life teenage squadron member Karel Reisz – beds local widow Susan (Tara Fitzgerald) between Spitfire lessons, but it isn’t long before he goes MIA. And before you can say Pearl Harbor, Susan turns to Frantisek for comfort.

Sverak’s Kolya won Foreign-Language Oscar in 1997, and this follow-up, the most expensive Czech movie ever made, was clearly intended to repeat the trick. Academy voters didn’t take the bait, perhaps suspicious of a package too blatantly assembled to a supposed Oscar recipe and resulting in a very old-fashioned kind of “handsomely mounted” picture. It’s undemandingly enjoyable in a pensioners-matinee, Sunday-telly style, but Sverak’s over-careful approach keeps things frustratingly earthbound, seldom soaring to the lyrical Saint-Exupery heights promised by the evocative title.

He’s often quite shamelessly manipulative, especially when Frantisek’s expressively mournful little dog is around. But in Vetchy and Hadek he has a contrasting pair of striking, unusual screen presences, and their relationship’s homoerotic sub-current occasionally comes surprisingly close to the surface. The script (by Sverak’s father Zdenek) is strongest on the sheer headlong suddenness of wartime, the abrupt vagaries of love, death and comradely valour. But the presence of those gloomy gulag episodes is a major misjudgement – as is the criminal underuse of Anna Massey: funny, plucky and poignant in the briefest of cameos.

28th April, 2002
(seen 24th January, Cineworld Milton Keynes)

For the original, longer review click here

by Neil Young
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