(Czech and German with English subtitles)
Rated: PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 57 min.
Our content rating: Violence 4; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 5.
But before they lay down, the men of the city, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we might know them.” Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.”
Just when you think the Holocaust has been played out in films, along comes another filmmaker with a new twist on it. Czech partners in film Jan Hrebejk (he directs) and Petr Jarchovsky (he writes) have produced a film, based on the latter’s novel, which itself is based on a true story, that shows the extraordinary decisions ordinary people must make when evil descends upon them. Some of the characters rise to the occasion, others fall prey to their fears and prejudices. Just as the biblical Lot found it dangerous to take guests into his home, so does the young Czech couple in this film.
In the brief opening segments we follow the declining fortune of the Weiner family as they are uprooted by the anti-Jewish policies of the Nazi occupiers of Czechoslovakia. Josef Cizek once worked for them. One night he encounters the youngest grown son David in the street and invites him home. David had escaped from the extermination camp where his family had perished, and had barely escaped recapture when a neighbor of Josef had called for the police. The cowardly man was afraid that if David were discovered on their block, the Nazis would carry out their promise to arrest and shoot everyone living on the block. David and his wife Marie are themselves afraid of this, Josef using all his persuasive powers to convince her that they must give David sanctuary. And so begins the long ordeal for them all of hiding their guest in their pantry.
One of the persons they fear the most is a former coworker Horst Prohazka, an ardent Nazi supporter and frequent unwelcome caller at their house. Josef, to earn money and provide cover, accepts Horst’s offer to work in the same office as he, thereby convincing the neighbors that he too is a collaborator. This will later prove to be almost fatal. Marie has to fend off Horst when he visits during Josef’s absence, the leering visitor having lustful designs on her. She walks a thin line, because angering him could bring down the authorities upon them. There are a lot of complications in the story, including how Marie will deal with her sterile husband and the suspicious Horst when she announces that she is pregnant. Were it not based on a true story, one would say that the solution is far too bizarre to be believable.
The film, showing people living under incredible stress while wrestling with decisions of life and death, is a good example of what Americans have been discovering since September 11—that ordinary people are often capable of great acts of moral heroism when the choice confronts them. Josef is shown at first as anything but heroic, lying around their apartment complaining of aches and pains, and Marie as one who would regretfully turn their guest out into the night, but for her husband’s insistence that they do the right thing. However, once they have made their decision, they use all their ingenuity and courage in protecting the fugitive David. Divided We Fall is a fine visual parable, with an intriguing surrealistic scene near the end, a film well worth seeking out when it is available in your area, either in an art theater or on video.