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Dark Blue World [Tmavomodry svet] (2001)


If you read lukewarm reviews of this film, ignore them; they were just blowback from Pearl Harbor.  Apparently (I've not seen Pearl Harbor), there are some surface similarities between the two movies--the WWII setting; two friends who are a fliers; a shared love interest--and I suppose that scenario could be considered cliched, but it seems as if critics, who uniformly hated Pearl Harbor, were unwilling to judge Dark Blue World on its own merits.  Their reviews are mostly petulant complaints about having to sit through a Czech version of the prior Hollywood flop.

The fascinating story here, based on historical events, involves a veteran Czech pilot, Franta (Ondrej Vetchy), and a fresh-scrubbed young farm boy, Karel (Krystof Hádek).  When the Nazis take over Czechoslovakia, the Czech Air Force surrenders without firing a shot.  After a humiliating scene when he has to turn his unit's planes over to a smug Nazi, Frantja decides to go enlist in the RAF, taking Karel with him.

At first they find their training in England just as degrading as surrender to the Germans, as they're forced to ride bicycles in simulated flight formations and take basic English lessons and the like.  But eventually they get to start flying missions, first over Britain and then over continental Europe.  On one of these flights over Britain, Karel is shot down and believed dead, but in fact stumbles upon a pretty British woman, Susan (Tara Fitzgerald), whose husband is away in the war, and the predictable happens.  Though he's utterly smitten, it seems apparent when the woman meets Franta that she's more interested in Karel's older, more self-contained commander.  Again the predictable happens, though unbeknownst to Karel, and soon Franta, who tries several times to share his secret, is consumed with guilt.

So long as the Franta's betrayal remains unknown, the two men remain fast friends, saving each other several times, including an episode when Franta lands his plane in a field in France to rescue Karel who's been shot down.  But when the clandestine relationship is inevitably revealed the two become estranged, with Franta even accusing Karel of shooting at him at one point.

This story is told in flashbacks from a Czechoslovakian prison hospital in 1950, where in a perverse irony Franta has been interned by the Communists, as have all Czechs who flew with the RAF, because they are not considered trustworthy.  As Franta shares his memories with his doctor we see that he is a man consumed by his past, haunted by Karel, and beckoned by the deep blue world they flew in during the war, even as he remains stuck in the drab gray prison of the present.

As this too simple description suggests, there's ample ammunition here for critics who wanted to dismiss the film as cliched.  But what it's not possible to convey here is how affecting the film is, especially the great love portrayed, which as in all war movies is not the physical love between Franta and Susan but the comradely love of Franta and Karel, who share so much, but ultimately too much.  And the point is that their relationship works and it draws us in.  They are very likable--the one eager and innocent; the other more experienced and reserved.  They're something of an odd match but we can see what they provide to one another, especially in such trying times.  We care about them.  We ache when they hurt each other.  We want them to patch things up.  We feel ennobled by the sacrifices they make for one another.  We can fathom how beautiful yet painful Franta's memories must be to him and why they would remain so close to the surface of his mind.  Indeed, Ondrej Vetchy is especially good as Franta, with his soulful, mournful eyes and the rare gravity he brings to the character.  By the end of the film he's experienced so much loss--to the Nazis, to the Communists, of his friends, of lovers--but there's still a calm dignity that compels our attention and earns our respect.

We're a couple years on now and maybe folks have forgotten about Pearl Harbor.  Heck, I don't think anyone saw it but the critics anyway.  So pick up Dark Blue World and watch it for itself, not in order to compare it to some other film.  It is a lovely movie.

(Reviewed:13-Aug-02)

Grade: (A)

Websites:

See also:

    -INFO : Dark Blue World (2001) (Imdb.com)
    -Dark Blue World (Sony Classic Pictures)
    -INFO : Kolya (1996) (Imdb.com)
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Jan Sverak (Imdb.com)
    -INTERVIEW : Tara Fitzgerald, Dark Blue World (Interviewed by Jane Crowther, 6th May 2002, BBCi)
    -ARTICLE: Hero pilot unmasked as Hitler's spy in the RAF (Paul Harris, June 15, 2003, The Observer)
    -REVIEWS : Dark Blue World (MetaCritic)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Stephen Hunter, Washington Post)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Stephen Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Paula Kennedy, BBC)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Simon Wardell, BBCi)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Peter Bradshaw, Guardian)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Phillip French, The Observer)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Kevin Thomas, LA Times)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Jim Slotek, Toronto Sun)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Elvis Mitchell, NY Times)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Jeffrey M. Anderson, SF Examiner)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Bob Graham, SF Chronicle)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Alexander Walker, This is London)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Desson Howe, Washington Post)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Marta Barber, Miami Herald)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Lou Lumenick, NY Post)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Rob Blackwelder, SplicedWire)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Owen Glieberman, Entertainment Weekly)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Bill Gallo, New Times LA)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Jessica Winter, Village Voice)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Jason Anderson, Eye Weekly)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Marritt Ingraham, Austin Chronicle)
    -Revie w : of Dark Blue World (Hazel Dawn Dumpert, LA Weekly)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Tor Thorsen, Reel.com)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Political Film Review)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Mary Ann Johanson, Flick Filosopher)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Mongoose, Haro Online)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Edwin Jahiel)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Ed Gonzalez, Slant)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Richard von Busack, MetroActive)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Rebort, Inside Out)
    -Review : of Dark Blue World (Aaron M. Fontana, Entertainment Today)
    -REVIEW :  of Kolya (Rachel Hostetter Smith, Ph. D., Hollywood Jesus)

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