Divided We Fall


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Divided We Fall

Living-under-the-jackboot movies feed off heroism, whether it be The Diary Of Anne Frank or Schindler's List. You would have thought that there is little left to learn from the Nazi experience. So much has been written, so much shown.

Jan Hrebejk's beautifully observed Czech film proves the exception. This isn't about heroes. It's about trying to survive in a paranoid environment, where the way you smile matters in the pantomime of terror and an act of bravery is more an accident than anything else.

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Before the war, the Wieners lived in a palatial house at the top of the town. They owned the factory, where most people worked, and were considered good employers. By 1941, they were gone, with all the other Jews, and a Nazi officer occupied the big house. Horst (Jaroslav Dusek), their ex-chauffeur, works for the Germans. He is in a position of considerable power.

Josef (Boleslav Polivka) was a colleague of the Wieners. Now he's unemployed and lives with his wife, Marie (Anna Siskova), in a small apartment. They can't have children and spend their time bickering, or worrying about being caught with illegal meat. Horst drops in whenever he feels like it, being jokey and manic, parading his privilege like a threat. He fancies Marie and considers Josef a friend. They think of him as a quisling, a nuisance and a dangerous acquaintance.

David (Csongor Kassai), the only son of the Wieners, escapes from concentration camp and returns to the town. He approaches Josef's neighbour and asks for help. The man is terrified. "If someone sees you, they will execute the whole street," he cries, pushing him away. He ends up at Josef's. It is not meant to be like this. Marie is scared, Josef is nervous, but they cannot allow themselves to abandon an orphan of the Holocaust. Call it humanity. Josef calls it ill-conceived. They hide David in the larder and keep him for two years.

What makes this an exceptional film is Hrebejk's understanding of what it must have been like living with the fear of exposure, surrounded by suspicion, having to do bad things to protect the truth, constantly on guard. There are no heroes, only people whose perception of life has been twisted by circumstances beyond their control.

The humour is ingrained within the fabric of the story. Horst is a clown and Josef a comic figure. If the situation appears bizarre at times, it is as if the whole world has gone mad. Not in a funny way. What saves them is their spirit and sheer naked luck. What lifts them above the collaborators and pragmatists and those who glumly watch and wait is an innate humanity.

Divided We Fall resurrects hope after hope has died.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2002
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Divided We Fall packshot
A couple decide to take in a holocaust fugitive - a move which has unexpected consequences.
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Director: Jan Hrebejk

Writer: Petr Jarchovsky, Jan Hrebejk

Starring: Boleslav Polivka, Anna Siskova, Jaroslav Dusek, Csongor Kassai, Jiri Pecha

Year: 2000

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Czech Republic


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