Review: Dark Blue World

It might just confuse cinephiles who believe that Pearl Harbor by a foreign name must smell sweeter.

Dark Blue World
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics

Barcha has a hard time letting go of Franta (Ondrej Vetchý), a Czech fly boy going off to England to serve the RAF against the Nazis. Barcha is a dog though you’ll have a hard time distinguishing bitches from women in Jan Sverák’s offensive Dark Blue World. Franta and his young protégé Karel (Krystof Hadek) arrive in England before a cocky pilot starts going off about his hot mama—looking into a viewfinder, Franta realizes the old boy is really talking about a pooch. Sverák’s fools then go on about painting naked ladies on their jets while comparing female breast sizes. You might remember Dark Blue World’s plot and character archetypes from Pearl Harbor.

A stodgy Brit woman teaches the base’s aviators the many charms of the Queen’s English. They’re antsy, though—doodling naked ladies on pieces of paper, the boys dream of flying and shooting down nelly Germans. Sverák’s unusually tranquil air battles make it difficult to tell an ordinary training mission from the real deal. Karel’s jet goes down and he is believed to be dead. He’s alive, though, stumbling into a British cottage occupied by Susan (Tara Fitzgerald), a readymade Mother Goose rearing orphaned British kids not unlike Lilian Gish from The Night of the Hunter. Susan says she’s waiting for her lost husband but she readily compares nostril sizes with the young Karel (who inexplicably mastered the English language sometime between crashing his jet and her house) and allows herself a little piece of Czech sugar.

Karel makes his way back to the RAF base with little fanfare. After celebrating Susan’s breasts, Karel brings the older Franta to the woman’s cozy whore cottage. Foot gently placed in mouth, Susan believes Franta is there for a gang-bang; she eats crow and inexplicably bonds with Franta over vinegar. Transformed into a wishy-washy slut, Susan writes a Dear John letter to Karel before shacking up with Franta. (Unlike Michael Bay’s evocation of how letters are read, the accompanying voice-over track doesn’t fade out as the paper is crumpled.) If there is little rationale to Susan’s inconsistent sex drive, the woman’s even worse at letting go; her husband returns though you’d never know by looking at Susan and Franta that love was once in the air.

Karel and Franta take jealousy to the skies, Hartnett-Affleck style. Karel’s love for Franta is potent though his martyrdom is egregious at best. Taking a cue from Bay and Rod Lurie, a stuttering John is the film’s first casualty while Sverák turns a French cow pasture into a comedy stage. Karel’s plane goes down (yes, it’s a habit) before the boy dresses up as a French peasant; a German soldier’s gaze suggests he suspects the sweaty faced cow-hand of intrusion yet he inexplicably skimps on the parlez-vous francaise. Cheap suspense is accompanied by ham-fisted metaphors: a bird nest falls from a chimney, a condom balloon pops accordingly with the film’s climax while a box of walnuts shake in response to Franta’s thrusting loins.

Worse are Sverák’s signifiers for Franta’s guilt—walking into the base’s bedroom, Franta accidentally mistakes Karel’s locker for his own. (Get it? He’s moved in on his property—in more ways than one.) There’s also an alternate plot line, something about Franta being confined to a Cold War labor camp in 1950. Easily excisable, these distracting scenarios have the makings of a better film. Severák, like Wargnier, is a grandstanding populist whose epics are difficult to distinguish from those of statesiders like Bay and Cameron. Flacks will have an easy time selling Dark Blue World to American audiences. Its carefully calibrated schmaltz is rendered accessible by its English dialogue, which will confuse cinephiles who still believe that Pearl Harbor by a foreign name must smell sweeter.

 Cast: Ondrej Vetchý, Krystof Hádek, Tara Fitzgerald, Charles Dance, Oldrich Kaiser, Linda Ryboyá, Lukás Kantor, Radim Fiala, Hans-Jörg Assmann, Miroslav Táborský, Thure Riefenstein, Anna Massey  Director: Jan Sverák  Screenwriter: Zdenek Sverák  Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics  Running Time: 119 min  Rating: R  Year: 2001  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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