By: Denis Blot
Zelary’s central story line of a world war two resistance fighter forced to go into hiding and a love affair forming in the process is one that has been told before, albeit in several variations. While Ana Geislerova as Eliska, the cultured medical student working for the underground, and Gyorgy Cserhalmi as Joza, the mild mannered peasant willing to hide and protect her, both give strong performances that make their characters believable, it is the secondary characters who inhabit the small rural village of Zelary which make the film worth watching.
Characters such as the priest who illegally marries Eliska and Joza, a school principal who is himself educated as he realizes his short comings, and an old woman/grandmother who seems to take care of the entire village, provide support to a weak central plot. Their individual stories, which intertwine with that of Eliska and Joza, weave a tapestry of rural life, and generate an overall solid film. Of all the characters, most impressive are the performances from the children. Anicka Vertelaroya as Helenka, a young girl who brings her pet goat everywhere she goes, provides moments of both humor and tenderness with dialogue and facial expressions one might compare to Little Orphan Annie. Tomas Zatecka as Lipna, a boy with an abusive father who runs away from home (secretly checking on his mom and others in the community), says little but his actions and facial reactions express more than any well written dialogue ever could.
Director Ondrej Trojan elicits wonderful performances from the actors and uses shot sequences that keep the film’s story moving. Cinematographer Asen Sopov manages to capture the beauty of the Slovakian countryside as well as the inhabited oil lit homes, creating a believable vision of life in a peasant community.
The deleted scenes provided in the DVD extras are short and not all that interesting, though the camp humor home movie segment on the actors visit to Los Angeles for the Oscars is noteworthy for its ending with a touch of the black comedy Czech films are known for. The twenty-two minute making of documentary provides great footage of the difficulties the filming ran across as well as amusing moments with some of the actors.
While Zelary exemplifies the longstanding tradition of good Czech filmmaking, the film falls short of other film masterpieces (Pelle The Conqueror, Tree of The Wooden Clogs) depicting life in rural villages. The film is certainly worth viewing once, but at over two hours in length its not the kind of film one would be inclined to view repeatedly.