The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Dark Blue World

Many people in writing about this movie have compared the central plot complications to those in "Pearl Harbor." Two fighter pilots both fall in love with the same woman. Their friendship is tested.

But the idea of fighter pilots falling in love with the same woman goes back at least as far as the 1926 "Wings." And heck, the idea of the two warriors falling for the same woman goes back to Greek tragedy.

To be perfectly honest, father and son writing team Zdenek and Jan Sverak stir up the pot a bit in this 2001 Czech film. They don't so much create a romantic triangle as a hexagon. In trying to lay out the whole thing, I was reminded of Sonia's soliloquoy in Woody Allen's "Love and Death":

"I'm in love with Alexei.
He loves Alicia.
Alicia's having an affair with Lev.
Lev loves Tatiana.
Tatiana loves Simkin.
Simkin loves me.
I love Simkin, but in a different way than Alexei.
Alexei loves Tatiana like a sister.
Tatiana's sister loves Trigorian like a brother.
Trigorian's brother is having an affair with my sister, who he likes physically, but not spiritually.
The firm of Mishkin and Mishkin is sleeping with the firm of Taskov and Taskov."

In "Dark Blue World," the playbook would look like:

Kanka is in love with Hanicka.
She loves Franta.
Franta loves Hanicka, but is having an affair with Susan.
Susan loves Franta, but is married to Charles.
Karel loves Susan.
Franta loves Karel like a brother.
Jane is intrigued by Karel.
The Army of The Third Reich is ravishing the country of Czechoslovakia.

...and so on.

Anyway, suffice it to say that the basics of the plot development won't break any new ground. You've seen this kind of movie many times. But you haven't seen it with this particular cast of characters with this particular back story.

The movie tells us about the Czech airmen who left their country when the Germans marched in unopposed in 1939. They signed up to fly with the RAF in England, trying to cope with a different language, different customs, and different planes. When the war was over, they went home to try to return to a normal life, only to find themselves rounded up and put in forced labor camps by the Russians, who feared that if the fighters could rise up against an occupying oppressor once, they might just try it again.

The second part of that story is the more unusual and interesting to me, but it gets short shrift, with the movie occasionally jumping from the main storyline of the war years to only offer glimpses of the survivors in their constrained existence after the war.

The three main romantic triangle protagonists all do a good job. The heroic lead (Ondrej Vetchy) looks eerily like a young Robert DeNiro. His youthful protege is a fresh-faced kid straight off the farm (Krystof Hadek). The object of their affections is English actress Tara Fitzgerald. Charles Dance struts around as the stereotypical stuffy British Senior Officer at the air base. Oh yes, and I should mention the hero's dog, which does as good an acting performance as any human in the film (and that's not a dig at the humans).

The film is shot lushly, with nice aerial dogfight and strafing sequences, beautiful English and Czech countryside shots, and realistic recreations of period homes, clothing, and cars. And then there are the planes. Those gorgeous Spitfires cost $10,000 an hour to use for the flying shots. Worth every penny. Including the time they strafe and blow up a full size train. The filmmakers didn't use a model for that shot... they really blew up a train!

The film is in Czech and English, with good clear subtitles.

It's conventional and it won't stay with you as a great epic. But while you are watching it, the movie is engrossing and you care about the characters. War is hell. So is the aftermath.

The DVD includes a good "making of" documentary that is not a puff piece for the publicity department to use on television.

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