A Dozen Films of Czechoslovakia: World War II & the Cold War – Part I

A Dozen Films of Czechoslovakia: World War II & the Cold War – Part I

The first six films:

My husband Charles loved movies especially films on history and James Bond! When he died I decided to continue watching history movies (and James Bond when Daniel Craig started to play James) even though I would be viewing them alone. I searched for as many movies I could find on the Czech Resistance during World War II and the Cold War. I was amazed at how many I found for loan through my public library and statewide electronic library plus Netflix, YouTube and Amazon.  I saw two of the films  at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Following is a selected list of films I recommend for viewing if you want to get a taste of the drama of the events of the occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II and the Cold War. Get out of the heat, start up your air conditioner or fan and discover through film.

Adelheid – 1969

This film tells the tale of two lovers and is based on a novel set in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia after World War II. A former Czech soldier returns from the western front and finds work taking charge of a manor formerly owned by a German family. He falls in love with the daughter, who is now a maid, and is forced to confront the stress between his love and his conscience when he finds out she is sheltering her German brother. Prolonged resentment over the war and bitter political strife stand in the way of their happiness.

And Give My Love to the Swallows  – 1971

A young Moravian girl defies the Nazis by joining up with the Czech Resistance; after she is taken prisoner, she recounts her experiences in a diary that demonstrates the value of sacrifice for a greater cause, and the possibilities for hope in the darkest times imaginable. Maruska Kuderikova’s real-life story is brought to the screen by Czech New Wave filmmaker Jaromil Jires who guides his cast through a fictionalized version of the true story of Kuderikova who found herself in the clutches of the Nazi’s and made a diary of her harrowing experiences.  Jires brings Kuderikova’s story to the screen, creating a painful portrait of her life illustrating both her bravery and fear.

 Casablanca  – 1942

This is a classic American film directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henried and featuring Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.  Set during World War II, it focuses on a man torn between, in the words of one character, love and virtue. He must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her Czech Resistance leader husband escape from the unoccupied French-controlled Moroccan city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.

 Closely Watched Trains – 1966

This film is based on a coming-of-age-story by Bohumil Hrabal about a boy working at a train station in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II. A bumbling train dispatcher’s apprentice longs to liberate himself from his virginity. Oblivious to the war and the resistance that surrounds him, this young man embarks on a journey of sexual awakening and self-discovery, encountering a universe of frustration, eroticism, and adventure within his sleepy backwater depot. Wry and tender, Academy Award®-winning Closely Watched Trains is a masterpiece of human observation and one of the best-loved films of the Czech New Wave.

Vaclav Neckar stars as the unambitious youth whose chief preoccupation is a wish for sex, but who secondarily sees the draw of joining the organized resistance movement. The latter, however, would require energy and focus, and Neckar’s character–who does as little work as possible as an apprentice railway platform guard–prefers the inertia of his small-town depot. Spending his time observing the philandering of an older guard, keeping clear of his wild-eyed boss, and flirting with the female conductor of a passing train, the young hero has his priorities in order but must deal with an increasing responsibility to a larger rebellion. The film has a nice mix of rural lethargy, surreal hints, and comic knowingness about the landscape of teenage ambivalence. Finally, there is something else: the shock of a confrontation between dreams and real-world obligation, particularly in a world gone mad through no fault of one’s own.

Conspiracy – 2001

On January 20, 1942, fifteen German officials attended a conference at Wannsee – on the outskirts of Berlin. The meeting comprised of mid-ranking SS commanders and a variety of government ministers. The meeting was organized by SS Major Adolf Eichmann under the direction of Chief of Security Reinhard Heydrich. It was a polite conference, but under this thin veneer of manners lay an evil intent. By the end of the meeting, the fate of six million lives would be decided and the shape of the world would be altered forever.  In starring roles are actors Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth.

Dark Blue World – 2001

After the Communists seized control of Czechoslovakia after World War II, they imprisoned Czech pilots who had flown with the RAF during the war, afraid these men would take up the fight for freedom once again. It’s in 1950, one of these work camps — from which the inmates are assured there is no parole — that you meet Franta Sláma, ironically incarcerated alongside former SS officers. As a lieutenant in the Czech air force, he had been forced, in 1939, to step aside for the snide, smugly superior Nazis who took over his airbase when the Germans occupied his country.

In the wartime flashback that consumes most the film, Franta and his young protege, Karel Vojtisek, flee to England to fly and fight alongside the British, along with other of their fellow Czech pilots. The culture clash they encounter in England and the initial reluctance of the Brits to put their guests right out in glory’s path is both humorous and startling. But, there’s an air of heartache hanging over Franta, from the moment he says good-bye to his sweetheart in Czechoslovakia, leaving her under the watchful eye of a jealous would-be suitor. And when he finds himself unexpectedly falling for an English girl, with whom the naive and romantic Karel has convinced himself he is in love, we know that no happy ending can be in the offing.


“The Internet Movie Database (IMDb).” http://www.imdb.com.

“Michigan Electronic Library (MEL).”http://www.mel.org

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