Želary US Theatrical Release: September 17, 2004 (Sony Pictures Classics) US DVD Release: February 8, 2005 Running Time: 2:27:38 (12 chapter stops) (The display shows a running time of 2:35 and change, but the film ends and returns to the menu at the 2:27:38 point.) Rating: R (For Violence and Some Sexual Content) Video: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Audio: Czech DD5.1 (Extra features: Czech DD2.0) Subtitles: English, French (Extra features: English) TV-Generated Closed Captions: None Menus: Not animated Packaging: Standard keepcase; insert has cover images of other titles on one side and alternate Želary cover artwork on the other. MSRP: $29.95 THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 3.5/5 Želary, the Czech Republic’s 2003 entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, sets a fish-out-of-water love story in German-occupied Czechoslovakia. However, make no mistake: this is not a war movie, although the setting does provide a ready-to-wear ominous cloud that heightens the drama. In spring, 1943, Eliška (Aňa Geislerová) is a 19-year-old medical student in Prague. She and her lover Richard, a doctor, go about their business under the watchful eye of the Gestapo. However, when that eye is turned, they carry out missions for the Resistance. To the young and naïve Eliška, these missions are but a game, as evidenced by her repeatedly referring to them as such. As anyone familiar with films set in 1943 Europe knows, she is in for a rude awakening by the end of the first reel. Following a simple courier-drop-turned-narrow-escape, Eliška is told that Richard has fled the country and that she must leave Prague at once. A new identity has been prepared for her, as well as a hiding place – the remote mountain village of Želary. She is escorted on her journey by Joza (György Cserhalmi), a simple man, at least double her age, whom she met briefly when he was a patient at the hospital where she worked. When they arrive at the village, they are to be married in order to lend credence to her cover. The heart of the story deals with the gradually developing relationship between Eliška and Joza. They are polar opposites, and highly distrustful of each other at first. This sophisticated city girl is completely out of place in her new log cabin with its dirt floor and lack of electricity or plumbing. It remains to be seen how quickly she will fall under the spell of Želary’s quaint charms, and whether her hastily arranged marriage will develop into an honest and loving relationship. The episodic plot carries Eliška and the viewer through two years of life in Želary. And that is where the film’s weakness lies. It relies a bit too much on clichés: there’s a childbirth scene, an evening of dancing and revelry as the villagers celebrate a wedding, Nazis who show up to execute someone as an example, a young man jealous of Joza and lusting after his young bride, an overly precocious young girl, and an outcast child considered to be a troublemaker but who really has a heart of gold. We’ve seen all of these before. There are other less-than-original story elements, but I don’t want to give everything away. At 2.5 hours, the film probably could have done without some of these by-the-numbers characters and events. Still, Želary has much to recommend it. The performances are strong, and the main characters are likeable. Despite the film’s length, it is well paced, with scenes that never really outlast their welcome. Those in the mood for an unusual romance and a look at life in a tiny village that’s stuck in an earlier, simpler era will enjoy it. THE WAY I SEE IT: 2.5/5 The image has its ups and downs. Detail is generally good, with a rather high bitrate for the most part, especially considering the length of the movie. The film grain is reproduced accurately, without much in the way of shimmering patterns or other compression-related issues. They’re there, but are almost always unobtrusive, barring careful inspection (or a very large screen). The colors are a bit oversaturated, giving things an unnatural look that doesn’t really work for me in the context of the film’s realism. Perhaps the filmmakers were going for a dreamy style, but I can’t say for sure. I think some of the timing may be off, since characters’ faces sometimes appear to change tone from scene to scene. Black levels are only OK. As with most discs these days, edge enhancement rears its ugly head, but in this case, it’s not terribly ugly. It comes and goes, but for the most part, in this transfer it’s OK. The source print also shows some damage, especially near the beginning and end of the film. It’s a little distracting, but only briefly. THE WAY I HEAR IT: 4/5 While the soundtrack consists mainly of dialogue, the surrounds and LFE kick in when appropriate to provide a nice, immersive audio experience. The rich orchestral score adds to the atmosphere. This is a very solid track. THE SWAG: 2.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity) Deleted Scenes: (4:37) Six non-anamorphic deleted scenes, totaling 4:37, are included as a single menu item that plays them all together. They flesh out some characters a little bit, but on the whole aren’t terribly exciting. One that may appeal to some folks features the village children singing in the church during Joza and Eliška’s wedding. Travel For Oscar: (5:34) Home video of some of the cast and crew putzing around L.A., doing the tourist thing and preparing for the 2003 Oscars. It’s basically pointless, but it was fun to watch them gawk at some of the same sights we gawked at during the last HTF meet. There’s a funny bit at the end, where the crowd cheers for these folks without (most likely) knowing who they are, and security threatens to confiscate their camera. The Making Of Želary: (22:31) A fairly random montage of behind-the-scenes footage with some voiceovers from the cast and crew. It’s just OK, but gets bonus points for only including a few moments of actual clips from the film. Previews: Eight trailers are included. When the disc is first loaded, the trailers for Head In The Clouds, Bad Education, and House Of Flying Daggers play automatically. They may be skipped. Bad Education (0:37) (DD5.1 anamorphic) Being Julia (2:12) (DD5.1 anamorphic) Dark Blue World (2:09) (DD2.0 letterboxed) Divided We Fall (2:05) (DD2.0 1.33:1) Head In The Clouds (2:24) (DD2.0 anamorphic) House Of Flying Daggers (0:48) (DD5.1 anamorphic) Želary (2:21) (DD5.1 anamorphic) Zhou Yu’s Train (1:44) (DD2.0 anamorphic) SUMMING IT ALL UP The Way I Feel About It: 3.5/5 The Way I See It: 2.5/5 The Way I Hear It: 4/5 The Swag: 2.5/5 Želary takes us back to a simpler time and place, one that is threatened by the encroachment of civilization and war. It’s a well made production that will appeal to fans of European cinema and to those just looking for something different from the standard multiplex fare. On the other hand, while its premise is fairly original, it occasionally lets itself get sidetracked with stock characters and events, which holds it back from attaining real greatness. The picture quality is passable, the audio is excellent, and the extra features add some value to the package. If it sounds like your cup of tea, then it’s well worth checking out.