In 1940s war-torn Czechoslovakia Eliska (Anna Geislerová), a cosmopolitan medical student who works for the Resistance, gives her blood to save the life of an injured timber worker from the mountains, Joza (György Cserhalmi). When theirunderground activities are discovered, her fiancee Richard (Ivan Trojan) manages to slip out of the country and Eliska is forced to go into hiding from the Gestapo; Joza's isolated mountain cabin in tiny Zelary seems safest, under the protection of the tough and rugged peasant. As Eliska adjusts to her very different new life -as Hana, Joza's 'wife' - she and Joza begin to form a complex bond despite their many differences, amidst the harsh laws of nature, in an environment where time seems to have stopped 150 years ago. But the threat of the very real modern world hangs in the air.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This Oscar nominated drama is a cinematic treat on all fronts, from the carefully constructed characters to the veracity of the settings and the technical achievements of filmmaking. Satisfyingly complex, the fact based story delves into the characters and their cultural environment with great subtlety and grace.
Unlike many war stories of resistance fighters, Zelary is deeply committed to the intimate details of personal metamorphoses beyond the frame of their wartime activities. The film also burrows into the community, and avoids making thaese people some sort of utopian, morally upright checkpoint against Nazi amorality. It is these silken threads of truth that elevate Zelary to heights of creative excellence.
But so doe the performances; full of nuance and intricate detail, both Anna Geislerová as Eliska / Hana, and György Cserhalmi as Joza give us beautifully realised characters. In film, it is an ironic fact that the more intricate the characterisation, the more recognisable the character. These two actors convey much with looks and gestures, body language and timing.
This is especially critical for the symbolic change in Eliska as she has to assume the new role of country wife Hana. This educated urban sophisticate is thrust into a remote cabin and adapt to a world as alien, and as threatening as Mars. But Joza also has to adapt, his life turned inside out by this woman, to whom he owes his life in technical terms, yet who threatens it at the same time - not only through the very real threat of the Gestapo, but even within his own community. Small communities don't take strangers in very easily. Somehow, he has to fight her at the same time as his neighbours.
The summer colours of the Czech countryside are glorious, especially in contrast to the bleak wartime air that hangs over it, and when winter comes, the snow blankets the dark hollows. Culturally explicit, Zelary is at once a showcase of man's humanity and an essay on our eternal failures. For example, the simple but powerful scene where the local priest quietly discusses the wedding ceremony with the couple, on the verge of this artificial marriage. It's a scene of enormous emotional power, shot without an ounce of sentimentality. Much like all the film; highly recommended.
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CAST: Anna Geislerová, György Cserhalmi, Jaroslava Adamová, Miroslav Donutil, Jaroslav Dusek, Iva Bittová, Ivan Trojan, Jan Hrusínský
PRODUCER: Ondrej Trojan
DIRECTOR: Ondrej Trojan
SCRIPT: Petr Jarchovský (novella by Kveta Legátová)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Asen Sopov
EDITOR: Vladimír Barák
MUSIC: Petr Ostrouchov
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Milan Bycek
RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: November 25, 2004; Other states to follow
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
VIDEO RELEASE: August 3, 2005