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'Zelary' has rich characters, but a slow story

Published December 10, 2004 12:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2004, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A woman finds new love and perils in rural life, in this ruminating Czech drama.

Rated R for violence and some sexual content; in Czech, Russian and German with subtitles; 142 minutes.

Opening today at the Tower Theatre.

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Not much happens in "Zelary" - but that's OK, because it happens so slowly that you barely notice.

That sounds more insulting than it's meant to be, because this Czech World War II drama (which lost to "The Barbarian Invasions" for the Oscar for best foreign-language film) does spend time developing interesting characters with rare emotional depth.

Eliska (Ana Geislerov!) is a city nurse and part of the Czech Resistance battling the Nazis. When the Nazis crack down on the underground, Eliska's lover, Richard (Ivan Trojan), disappears - and Eliska quickly must find a safe place. Friends send her to live with Joza (Gyargy Cserhalmi), a rural millworker whose life Eliska saved earlier with a blood transfusion.

Joza's village, Zelary, is a throwback to the 19th century - lots of sheep, no electricity, and medical care provided by the town healer (Jaroslava Adamov!). It's no paradise, though, as jealousy and suspicion play out among Joza's neighbors. Joza and Eliska (now renamed Hana) slowly come together romantically, far away from the violence of the war. In the end, the war reasserts itself on the town in brutal fashion.

Writer Petr Jarchovsky fashions a genuine and tender relationship between Joza and Eliska, and between Eliska and the rural life she tries to adopt as her own. Unfortunately, director Ondrej Trojan doesn't propel the story with any force. When it should be building toward something stirring, "Zelary" instead meanders like the sheep grazing on the nearby hillsides.

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