Video Virgil: Last Laugh
First, a gripe. The Motion Picture Academy should have given the 2003 Oscar for Best Foreign Film to Zelary, a marvelous Czech film that I recently discovered on DVD. The film is about Eliska (Anna Geislerová), a nurse in Nazi-occupied Prague who, when her Resistance activities are discovered, flees to a remote mountain village, where to survive she must marry a taciturn woodcutter named Joza (György Cserhalmi).
Filmed in the mountains of Slovakia, Zelary is stunning to look at, and the story of how this stylish city dweller grows to love her rough-hewn peasant hosts, is more emotionally powerful than a dozen Hollywood melodramas like Cold Mountain (which I mention because it came out around the same time and, despite being about the American Civil War, was filmed in Rumania).
To the American reviewers at the time, the setting and theme of Zelary were "overly familiar," even "cliched." What on earth did they mean? Has the U.S. market been glutted with Eastern European films dramatizing the social and cultural gap between urban and rural ways of life in the 1940s? Are we jaded about post-Cold War Czech films showing the rape and murder committed by the first wave of Soviet "liberators"?
Directed by newcomer Ondrej Trojan and based on a novel by Kveta Legátová, Zelary also has a terrific ending. I won't be a spoiler, but suffice it to say that it involves the amazing actress Jaroslava Adamová, playing an old peasant woman named Lucka, and that it reminds us, in one blazing moment, why human beings are ultimately irrepressible.