Dark Blue World (2001) Movie Review

There is a very disturbing trend in cinema nowadays. I used to think it was just American cinema, but it appears that, with “Dark Blue World,” even the international community is getting into the act. That trend? What I like to call the Trivial Love Triangle During a Major Historical Event movies. Coincidentally (or is it?) all movies that fit in the above category seems to take place during World War II.

Like “Enemy at the Gates” and “Pearl Harbor,” Jan Sverak’s “Dark Blue World” takes place in World War II, and concerns Czech pilots who, as the Germans are rolling into their country unopposed, decides to flee to England to continue fighting with the RAF (English Royal Air Force). While doing combat runs over England and France, best friends Franta (Ondrej Vetchy) and Karel (Krystof Hadek) both fall for the same woman. The woman in question is Susan (Tara Fitzgerald), an English woman who lives out in the country and takes care of children orphaned by the German bombing runs. First Karel falls for Susan, and then Franta, then the two men argue, and then one dies and the other survives… Well, you know how it goes, don’t you?

For its first hour “Dark Blue World” is very good, even though its concept of the War as a series of sporadic dogfights in the sky is a little bit limiting. That isn’t to say director Sverak doesn’t know his action, it’s just that even with the dogfights being brilliantly framed by cinematographer Vladimir Smutny, how many times can you see planes duking it out in the air before it gets repetitive? There is one scene when Sverak seems particularly inspired, and it concerns a dogfight that, as filmed, sends large bullet casings flying into frame. The bullet casings are obviously CGI-rendered, but that small, brief scene is probably the best sequence in the whole movie.

As written by Zdenek Sverak (who I believe is director Jan Sverak’s father), “Dark Blue World” handles the male bonding themes between the young Karel and his mentor/commander Franta well. I like that Karel acted like a child, impatient and brash, while Franta remained in control and calm throughout — a father figure, if you will. The supporting cast, the other members of Franta’s Czech squad, were also well written and personable, and includes a suave piano player (Oldrich Kaiser) and a coward (David Novotny) who, because of his habit of returning to base as soon as he launches, is nicknamed “Boomerang.”

And then the romance kicks into gear, and suddenly the whole film falls apart. When Karel’s plane crashes in the English countryside during a dogfight, he stumbles his way to Susan’s house. Susan is married, but her husband has been missing at sea for some time. And then stumbles in the young, impressionable, and very horny Karel, who promptly gets her into bed that very night and falls heads over heels in love. She’s his first love, not to mention his first real sexual experience.

Of course, since this is a Trivial Love Triangle During a Major Historical Event movie, Susan and Franta promptly falls in love upon first meeting, leaving poor Karel out in the cold. It goes without saying that the romance angle is handled badly, and the movie treats Susan as if she was a slut, willingly falling into bed with any man that runs across her way. Why exactly did she fall in love with Franta? Your guess is as good as mine, because I can’t for the life of me figure it out. Franta is not particularly handsome, or smart, or even charming. And neither is Karel, for that matter. And yet, Susan, lonely Susan, just ups and “falls in love,” which sets up Karel and Franta for their obligatory “conflict scenes.” Susan’s loneliness as the cause for her sexual carelessness is not a good explanation, because she clearly has a busy life taking care of the children.

There is another thing about “Dark Blue World” that immediately struck me as being a terrible decision on the filmmaker’s part. The film opens in 1950 to show us a very much alive Franta, now living in a Soviet prison. You see, in 1950 the Soviet Communist Machine has taken over the Czech Republic, and pilots like Franta are deemed threats to the current regime. The film then flashes back to 1939, and follows Franta and Karel’s experiences in the war, and their doomed love triangle. (Franta even narrates.) What does this mean to the film? For one, it tells us, with explicit clarity, who will survive the war! Needless to say, this does very little for the tension needed in the combat scenes. Gee, I wonder if Franta will survive…? Even “Pearl Harbor” (for all of its faults) didn’t deprive us of the “who will die, who will live” question with its opening sequence.

“Dark Blue World” is not without the good. The dogfights are well done and director Sverak and cinematographer Smutny lingers in the skies along with the planes, giving us a serene and poetic view of the clouds. The framing of the combat sequences are breathtaking, but there is little else about “Dark Blue World” to get too excited about.

Been there, done that, don’t want the T-shirt — even one from the Czech Republic.

Jan Sverak (director) / Zdenek Sverak (screenplay)
CAST: Ondrej Vetchý …. Frantisek Slama
Krystof Hadek …. Karel Vojtisek
Tara Fitzgerald …. Susan
Charles Dance …. Bentley
Oldrich Kaiser …. Machatý


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