Having flown for the British Royal Air Force, Czech pilot Franta Sláma (Ondrej Vetchy´) finds himself imprisoned in a post-WWII totalitarian Communist labor camp for "betraying" his country. Rewinding this story, award-winning director Jan Sverák takes us back to when Franta and his young protégé Karel Vojtisek (Krystof Hádek) escape Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to join the RAF in fighting the Germans. Frustrated at not being allowed to fly against the enemy until they can speak English and their RAF re-training is complete, a strong father/son bond between Franta and Karel quickly develops. After three months of training they are finally sent into combat, but the stress of the war, plus their mutual love for a married English woman, tests their strong friendship. DARK BLUE WORLD is a story about love, comradeship and sacrifice told with the nostalgic sentiment of classic Hollywood movies and the romance and historical backdrop of World War II.
The most durable war films tend to have a personal dimension, and Dark Blue World is no exception. This simple but affecting story of Czech air pilots serving in the RAF during the Second World War is sensitively directed by Jan Sverak from a script by his father Zdenek, whose Kolya was an unexpected but deserved hit with UK audiences.
Dark Blue World focuses on the relationship between Frantisek Slama (played with quiet authority by Ondrej Vetchy) and his protégé Karel Vojtisek (a fresh-faced Krystof Hadek). Escaping Czechoslovakia during the Nazi invasion of 1939, they enlist in the RAF, where the father/son relationship is threatened by their mutual attraction to the apparently widowed Susan (Tara Fitzgerald, thoughtfully understated). The film's culmination sees them reconciled in moving circumstances, and the perspective is widened by scenes set in 1950: Slama, as with most Czech soldiers who fought with the Allies, having been sentenced to hard labour by the Communist authorities as a potential security threat. His decent treatment by a German doctor, as opposed to the brutality of the Czech guards, points up the tragic irony of those who fought for freedom, only to finish up on the "wrong" side of the Iron Curtain.
Sverak maintains a persuasive balance between action sequences--into which out-takes from the 1969 epic The Battle of Britain have been seamlessly integrated--and the intimate portrayal of human relationships at a time of profound cultural upheaval. The musical score, tellingly arranged by Adam Klemens, centres around the pre-war song "Svita"--a haunting reminder of old-world charm in contrast to new-world grimness. Dark Blue World persuasively locates a human quality within the historical framework, and so makes for rewarding viewing.
On the DVD: Dark Blue World's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (enhanced for widescreen TVs) reproduces with excellent clarity. Subtitles are in English only--necessary as the soundtrack includes dialogue in Czech and German--with full English subtitles for the hard of hearing. There's a joint running commentary from the Sveraks, an insightful making of documentary, and featurettes giving the low-down on visual effects and aerial sequences. The running photo montage allows for a full run-through of the indelible song "Svieta", and both the English and (very different) Czech trailers are included. Would that all present-day films were as well catered for. --Richard Whitehouse
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