22 December 2004 | paul2001sw-1
Courage and cowardice
In Krszysztof Kieslowski's brilliant film, 'No End', set in post-Solidarity Poland, a lawyer tells a dissident union leader: 'You decided to collaborate the day you decided not to throw yourself under a tank.' Which is of course true, but often forgotten in our easy condemnation of those who picked the wrong side in past wars. To have been a baker in occupied France, say, and to have continued with your work, draws no retrospective judgement; to have been a senior civil servant is to earn today the label of a Nazi. Of course, Nazism was almost uniquely repugnant, and yet could have been stopped had no-one collaborated; but those of us lucky enough not to have lived through the war need also be careful about setting up standards that we ourselves could not have met. 'Divided We Fall' is a Czech drama set in World War Two, whose strength is it's honesty is portraying both the courage of ordinary people, and also the limits of that courage. It's heroes become reluctant enemies of the Germans when they shelter a Jewish fugitive for initially just one night; and are then forced to follow through on their actions. Director Jan Hrebejk is rather too keen on the peculiar trick of shooting film with a reduced refresh rate, rather like an old silent movie, so that his characters' movements appear odd and jerky: I'm not too sure what this is supposed to achieve. The gloomy nature of the central protagonist also leads to a lack of tonal variation in the piece, he is terminally depressed even before he gets into trouble, and this pervasive mood of hopelessness takes some of the zing out of what at times feels a slow-paced movie. But the merit of this work is it's portrayal of real human beings, doing both good and bad things, for mixed motives, at times of intense pressure. 'Divided We Fall' might not be a great film; but it is a true one.