Running almost ten million dollars in production costs, Dark Blue World is the most expensive Czech film ever made. And it shows. This latest effort by the Sverak father-son team comes off slick and strong, with a rock solid caste, brilliant camera work and compelling story line. But despite all this, it somehow feels wrong to call it a classic of Czech cinema on par with Closely Watched Trains or Fireman’s Ball.
The film is clearly reaching for a second Oscar to put on the Sverak mantelpiece, and the Eurowood elements are even more pronounced than they were in Kolya: the gratuitous strings, the curiously and uncomfortably upbeat montages, and the occasional over the top sentimental moment straight out of the California playbook.
But this criticism should be qualified with the statement that this is still a very good, very honest film that rings more true than false; a work compromised only slightly by its concessions to the overwhelming taste making power of US standards.
Dark Blue World (Full Length, Czech and English, English Subtitle) follows the memories of a Czech pilot named Franta who flew for the Royal Air force during World War Two as he sits in a communist prison for “enemies of the state” sometime in the early 1950s. His memories encompass the German invasion, his escape to Britain and his piloting adventures against the Luftwaffe.
These memories center on his friendship with another young Czech pilot, Karel, who is also his best friend. Having escaped occupied Bohemia together, the film follows them through English classes taught by patriotic knuckle rapping grammarians and flight drills with the rest of the (largely hapless) Czech squadron.
Their friendship comes to a head with the appearance of an older woman who lives near the base and sleeps with them both. Karel feels betrayed and refuses to speak to Franta until his final and tragic act of loyalty takes place on the high seas, a beautifully shot scene and a damn near tear jerking one. The action throughout the film is heart thumping, the human portraits well-chiseled and moving.
The accurately illustrated historical sweep of the film, from the eve of the German takeover to the Soviet prisons, is a lesson that goes down nuanced and smooth, thanks in part to a wonderfully acted Sudeten German doctor working in the communist prison. And of course there is the second to last scene.
The penultimate thirty seconds take place in a church converted into a prison labor site. It is a pure, absolute gem of cinema. Perfect.
And it should have closed out the film instead of the cutesy little nod to Hollywood that instead faded to black. But this in a nutshell is the story of the film generally, which were it not for flagrant and distracting lines of sap, could have been a truly great work of art.
Thinky says: Don’t miss it.