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'Zelary': Old European Cinema

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2004; Page WE48

In wartime Czechoslovakia, Eliska (Ana Geislerova) and her boyfriend, Richard (Ivan Trojan), both members of the resistance, are forced to flee the Nazis. But they are separated, and Eliska is forced to retreat to a mountainous region (called Zelary) and stay with Joza (Gyorgy Cserhalmi), a man to whom she recently donated blood. She adopts a false name, Hana, and marries Joza as part of her cover. Eliska has to learn the ways of rural life and play a dutiful wife. But village existence proves difficult: Some locals are suspicious of this mismatched couple -- the city woman and her older mate. And the Nazis are always at large; and as the war comes to a close, the Russians will prove no less friendly. But Eliska begins to appreciate Joza's true heart and his unpretentious ways.

Ondrej Trojan's film is filled to the brim with Czech movie staples: precocious children, wizened hags, every kind of animal, lusty men, hardscrabble housewives and so forth. But the long-take scenes, the beautiful cinematography and sure acting give the movie a naturalistic texture. And there's always a jarring incident to keep you on your toes: attempted rape, sudden death and the gruesome breaking of an arm, to name a few such jolts. The movie's on the long-winded side in the final stretches and seems to stuff five acts into three; but for fans of old-fashioned European filmmaking, this may have its pleasing qualities.

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ZELARY (R, 141 minutes) --Contains violence, sexual content and nudity. In Czech with subtitles. At the Avalon Theatre.


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