Flying above martial melodrama.


directed by Jan Sver᫠ with Ondrej Vetchy, Krystof Hᤥk, and Tara Fitzgerald opens Jan. 25 at Broadway Market

SPITFIRES, GOGGLES, daring rescues, handsome and not-so-handsome but brave and good men dying, women left behind weeping or there sheltering the men briefly in their arms—this is World War II, or the World War II movie anyway. The twist to Dark Blue World is that the pilots are Czechs who've made their way to England to join the Royal Air Force after Germany has occupied their country. Moreover, the tale is told in flashbacks from a Gothic forced-labor camp in which our hero, Franta (Ondrej Vetchy), is imprisoned by the Communists ruling Czechoslovakia upon his return. He and his fellow flyers have demonstrated their daring too amply, finding themselves not honored heroes but potential rebels.

The war part of this war movie dutifully follows a familiar dramatic arc: Our good-hearted hero kisses his lovely girlfriend and his dog goodbye, escapes with a junior officer (Krystof Hᤥk, a handsomer, smarter version of Leonardo DiCaprio) who quickly becomes his prot駩 and best friend, guides his squadron through training, drinks and sings with his men, fights the good fight in the skies over Europe, watches his men die one by one. With a woman (Tara Fitzgerald) comes the inevitable wartime love triangle.

Yet World fleshes all this out with both humor and sorrow; the acting is terrific, the writing realistic and echoing, the sentiment true. Scenes of the Czech pilots bridling at their R.A.F. training are hilarious; they are, for instance, made to practice flight patterns in a meadow on bicycles outfitted with wings. Dogfights with German planes are invested with genuine tension and benefit from a visual style that is nostalgic without being hazy or cheesy.

Since this isn't an American war movie, our hero doesn't get his reward, in heaven or on earth. His good-heartedness tinged with defeat, Franta calmly accepts his fate. In the labor camp, matters go impossibly from bad to worse; a small, perverse comfort is his recognition of shared humanity with the prison doctor (jailed there because he was in Hitler's S.S.).

World finally transcends its war-movie conventions: Women are the spoils to be fought over, the foils for the more noble love among men, but this notion is challenged as all is lost. Simultaneously, war is romanticized and its mythos debunked— for all its camaraderie and heroism, it is a monster that is never sated, even when it's over.

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