Dark Blue World (Tmavomodry svet) (Czech Republic, 2001) ***
Directed by Jan Sverak. Written by Zdenek Sverak. Photography, Vladimir Smutny. Editing, Alois Fisarek. Prodiuction design, Jan Vlasak. Music, Ondrej Soukoup. Producers, Eric Abraham & Jan Sverak. Cast: Ondrej Vetchy, Krystof Hadek, Tara Fitzgerald, Charles Dance, Oldrich Kaiser, et al. A Sony Pictures Classics release. In Czech, English, German. Subtitled. 119 minutes. Rated R (for no discernable reason)
Director Jan Sverak and writer Zdenek Sverak are the father and son team that made "Kolya" (1996) -- an excellently received movie which also won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
"Dark Blue World" --which gets its title from a song -- is a good, solid war-and-love story. I suspect that its appeal will be the highest for audiences aware of the history of Czechoslovakia from 1939 through the Soviet-dominated post-World War II years.
Things get off to a nice start, rather typical of that special brand of tongue-in-cheek Czech humor and black humor. It involves Air Force flight instructor Franta (Vetchy) and his best pupil Karel (Hadek) who is about to make his first solo flight. It is all rounded up by Franta's very pretty girlfriend, his wonderful dogŠ and the sudden invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis.
Franta and Karel do the right thing. They escape to England where they join the RAF. This is historically true. Some 3,500 Czechoslovaks joined the Allied Forces in the U.K.; 87 pilots flew in the Battle of Britain; 8 of them were killed; in all, 480 members of the based-in-Britain Czechoslovak Air Force were killed during World War II.
The based-on-fact fiction covers the airmen's training, their learning English, and their dogfights against Luftwaffe planes. A number of British Spitfire fighter planes are beautifully used via reconstructions, special effects and borrowings from another film. It is most impressively done.
Less impressive is the love story woven in between action scenes. Karel loses his virginity in a brief interlude with Susan (Fitzgerald) whose RAF husband is missing in action and who, like many Britons, is housing several children, mostly Londoners, away from harm's way. Circumstances make Franta and Susan fall in love. Complications that put a wedge between the two Czech friends follow. These are not too convincing.
The movie zig-zags from the UK story to a post-1948, also fact-based, vicious camp in which the Communist regime has interned ex-RAF people as potential danger to the hammer and sickle.
The cruel political drama, along with the adjustment of the Czechs to Great Britain and the tragedy of their losses are all very well sketched out. But above all, the action scenes in the air are breathtaking.