‘Divided We Fall’ rises to occasion

Courtney Clemente

“You wouldn’t believe what abnormal times can do to normal people,” quips one of the main characters in the recent film “Divided We Fall,” a period piece set in Czechoslovakia toward the end of World War II. Director Jan Hrebejk has composed an unforgettable, extraordinary story that depicts the severity of life in his native country during the German occupation.

“Divided We Fall” delves into oppression and the struggle for freedom as the Nazis vengefully carry out their agenda to exterminate all Eastern European Jews. The story unfolds in the small Czech town of Josefov. Filming was done on location in and around a military fortress built in 1870 by Emperor Joseph II, which enhances the film’s air of authenticity.

Dramatic and humorous aspects collide when a couple meets an old acquaintance, a Jewish man who has recently escaped from a concentration camp. They offer him a hiding place in their home, despite the inherent danger. In spite of the severity of this life-and-death situation, Hrebejk cleverly incorporates a comedic tone into his work.

During one scene, the protagonist’s wife becomes involved in a dreadful, yet humorous situation where a pro-Nazi neighbor makes advances toward her. When she rebuffs his approach, he comes up with a vengeful, but humorous form of redress. In another example of the film’s comedic tone, the Jewish escapee is named Wiener, and the nosy neighbor is called Horst the Wurst, both names alluding to sausages.

“Divided We Fall” is based on real-life experiences in which faith is placed in mortal, imperfect human beings. Unlike many Holocaust-centered films, this film is not primarily interested in informing its audience about the historical truth of the era and the survival or annihilation of its victims; rather, it focuses on how ordinary people, when confronted with ethical decisions, can make cruel or heroic choices. It brings the viewers into a realm of compassion, courage, realism and humor that helps us understand and interpret one of the most inconceivable tragedies of mankind. In fact, the film’s brilliant mixture of grim reality and humor led to an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film in 2000, and has continued to be acknowledged and praised around the globe.

“Divided We Fall” will be shown in its original language with English subtitles on Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m. in the Connelly Center Cinema. Admission is $3 for students and $4 for adults. The Monday showing will be followed by a discussion titled “Hrebejk’s Absurdist Humanism” given by local film expert Archie Perimutter.