Monday, October 31, 2005

Zelary * * * * *

This is a beautiful epic film is set in 1943/45 in Czechoslovakia. It is based loosely on a true story about a young Prague medical student woman who is working for the resistance, and when she is discovered, must flee to the Czech boonies with an older mountain man to his tiny, tiny village in the mountains. To save herself and all who have helped her, she must marry him and somehow fit in with the village folk. The film is largely about her relationship with this man who protects her, as it changes from reserved and awkward to intimate, and about her experiences with the characters in the village.

The acting is very strong throughout, so it is a bit unfair to just concentrate on the two leads, but that being said, they give very compelling performances. Ana Geislerova is perfect as the young sophisticated woman who must hide herself in this small village and to fit in must marry Joza. She wants to just cry and throw a tantrum, but she can't. This is simply what has to be done in the situation she is in. Her co-lead is Hungarian veteran actor, György Cserhalmi, who looks in the movie like a cross between Harrison Ford and John Wayne -- in real life he looks like a typical scruffy Eastern European actor pic here. Cserhalmi is perfect as the strong, taciturn, mid-50s sawmill worker.

I was floored by Ana Geislorova and Gyorgy Cserhalmi's performances (by the way, these two are *very* famous in their respective countries, although unless you are from Eastern Europe, you have probably never heard of them). The charisma and believability of their scenes together is really unusual. While I can think of many performances where an actor or actress was able to channel the emotions of a character, I can't think of many where they do this successfully with another actor/actress. The success of their performances was perhaps due to the fact that the 2 actors weren't talking to each other off the set; there was a bit of a language barrier since György is Hungarian and Ana is Czech. They basically kept their interactions to the lines they uttered while filming. In an interview on, Ana says "Sometimes I had to smile to myself, that we [meaning she and György] were working next to each other about a quarter of a year and saying nothing to each other off the set, and at the moment they said 'action', we would jump into being all lovey-dovey and all that absolutely without any problems. We knew each other only as characters in the film...somehow it worked." (a rough translation). And on top of this, György said many of his lines in Hungarian(!!). Obviously they re-recorded him saying his lines in Czech later. I think this is part of what makes their performances together so compelling, with no verbal communication they put a lot more intensity into their eyes and body language.

Miroslav Donutil also puts in a nice performance here that takes advantage of his wonderful voice -- he delivers a sermon. One of the best scenes is when he is talking with Joza and Hana before the wedding. He knows he is committing fraud and putting his life in danger by doing this, but the alternative is to turn in Hana, which would lead to the deaths of Joza and the town doctor. He has a monologue where he argues both sides to himself (while Joza and Hana watch rather nervously), finally with a deep sigh: "Well, I hope you're single at least." Joza clearly had not considered this appalling possibility, and his expression here is quite funny. It's a precious scene. Other films with Miroslav Donutil (the priest) that I've reviewed: Pelisky.

Other films with Gyorgy Cserhalmi that I've reviewed: Gyorgy Cserhalmi films

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