Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

There are many ways of depicting life in an occupied country. The best is the simplest. Zelary harks back to the great East European films of the Fifties and Sixties.

The story, a true one, tells of Eliska, an intelligent, relatively sophisticated medical student, working as a nurse at a Prague hospital, where her fiance is a surgeon. Both are members of a Resistance cell, for whom Eliska acts as a courier, carrying sensitive information.

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One day, she discovers that her fiance has fled and her life is in danger. The Nazis are onto them and she is persuaded to travel with one of her patients to his home in the Moravian mountains, where she must stay until the war is over.

Ondrej Trojan's film depicts the culture shock of leaving a city, with its diversity and opportunity, for a rural peasant existence, which involves, for the sake of acceptance and security, a change of name, marital status and social aspirations. In other words, Eliska becomes Hanna, weds the man she had nursed and integrates with the community.

Surprisingly, once Hanna sheds Eliska's persona and stops mourning her "real life," the story evolves into a romance. The villagers, from the priest to the schoolmaster to the midwife (who concocts her own potions) to the runaway boy (who lives in a hole in the ground), become infinitely sympathetic and interesting.

And then aspects of war burst upon their peaceful idyll. Undisciplined partisan militia and a Nazi raiding party converge. Suddenly, there is a feeling of Bosnia about the random chaos and killings, as if a carefully constructed life of communal continuity can be torn asunder by the forces of fear and hatred.

The performances have a depth and understanding that surpasses surface glamour. The rural life of subsistance farmers is beautifully realised and the pace of the film gently reflects Eliska's emotional journey.

Zelary may appear old fashioned in this techno revolutionary age, but its heart is pure and its eyes are as clear as summer.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2004
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A nurse, working for the Resistance in Prague, 1943, escapes to the Moravian mountains.
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Director: Ondrej Tojan

Writer: Petr Jarchovsky

Starring: Ana Geislerova, Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Jaroslava Adamova, Miroslav Donutil, Jaroslav Disek, Iva Bittova, Ivan Trojan, Jan Hrusinky, Ondrej Koval, Juraj Hrcka

Year: 2003

Runtime: 150 minutes

Country: Czech Republic/Austria/Slovak Republic


EIFF 2004

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