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'Dark Blue World'

Pilots' war heroics make for complex story of love, politics

Friday, March 01, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

What happens when World War II soldiers who are best friends fall in love with the same woman? It all depends on the movie, the nationality and the perspective.

'Dark Blue World'

RATING: R for sexuality/nudity. Partially subtitled.

STARRING: Ondrej Vetchy, Krystof Hadek, Tara Fitzgerald.

DIRECTOR: Jan Sverak.

WEB SITE: www.sonyclassics.com/



"Pearl Harbor" turned the tale into a big, bombastic throwback of a movie that used the love story to emphasize the idea of going to war as being somehow romantic and of American pilots as idealistic innocents fighting back and prevailing against unprovoked aggression.

"Enemy at the Gates," which was about Russians, made it political. When the commissar realized he was losing the girl to the sharpshooter he had propagandized into a national hero, he tried to orchestrate the rifleman's death (making it look like an accident, of course).

"Dark Blue World," now at the Regent Square Theater, centers on a pair of Czech pilots -- Franta (Ondrej Vetchy), an officer, and Karel (Krystof Hadek), one of his young charges -- who flee the country after the Nazis take over and join a Czech unit with Britain's Royal Air Force.

These are men who become pawns in the larger chess match. Director Jan Sverak ("Kolya") casts them as doomed heroes, valiant and dashing men who remain under the thumb of the big powers both during and after the war.

Some, inevitably, are lambs led to slaughter. The British tend to treat them like children, training them ridiculously on bicycles before allowing them to fly and condescending to them even after a successful mission -- the commander (Charles Dance) pats one on the head in approval and barks at another to move his plane off the grass even though he barely made it back after a dogfight.

In fact, even the most sophisticated of the Czechs has an endearingly boyish quality to him. It is reflected in the squad's camaraderie, in their love of music and singing, in the pictures of naked women they share like adolescents stumbling upon a stash of Dad's girlie magazines in the attic, in the emotions they feel when one of them dies.

We see it, too, in Franta's love for his dog and in the giggling sexplay between Franta and his girl back home as they try to keep her parents from hearing them in the next room.

Karel, who really is little more than a youth, stumbles into an affair of his own when his plane is crippled and crashes in the English countryside. He makes his way to an isolated house occupied by Susan (Tara Fitzgerald), whose husband is missing in action.

How can she resist Karel, who is little more than a youth but charming as much for his innocence as for his looks? It is a telling point that Susan takes care of children from London whose parents have shipped them out of the city for their safety -- and that, once she meets Franta, she falls for the older man.

This is a more complex matter than the love triangle in "Pearl Harbor," where Kate Beckinsale falls for Josh Hartnett only after she thinks Ben Affleck has died. So is Karel's reaction and the way it affects the relationship between the two pilots while they are on duty.

"Dark Blue World" features impressive aerial combat sequences in small, rickety one-man planes maneuvering in and out of the way of each other's guns.

But there is no triumph even in victory. Sverak and his screenwriter father, Zdenek, establish up front that Franta survives the war, only to end up in a Soviet labor camp -- the Russians imprisoned the Czech pilots who flew for England for fear that they might fight for freedom again.

The irony comes in how the identity of the enemy shifts -- but that, after all the fighting and all the death, this Czech still isn't free.

The Russian prison sequences, while introducing a fatalism intrinsic to the tale, also tend to take us out of the story. But we remain captivated with the spirit and the innocence and the dutiful courage of the Czech flyboys. It is a dark blue world indeed that leaves them to cruel fate.

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