A small village in Czechoslovakia has had its nationality swapped numerous times. Its position near a contentious border means it has belonged to several countries; the one thing that remains constant is its people. However, when war comes in 1939, one group of villagers decide to officially announce themselves as German, a move that ideologically splits the village apart—a blow that they will never recover from.

Neighbours turn on each other with shocking speed and incredible acts of cruelty, which do not make for pleasant viewing. It doesn’t take long before the village becomes a tangled mess, completely unsure of what it is. In one shot a woman vandalises a Nazi Party building, while behind her, her neighbour lovingly kisses her SS boyfriend goodbye. Director Bohdan Sláma does an excellent job of balancing a huge ensemble of characters, each of whom have well developed motivations and fears.

The end of the war marks the film’s halfway point but there is no cause for celebration. Instead, the tables turn and those who were prosecuted exact their revenge. The film takes no sides; instead, it shows everyone, regardless of their actions, as ambiguous. This puts the audience in a highly upsetting battle of morals, one that may be impossible to solve. So many WWII narratives are framed as good vs bad with victory, or defeat, as the natural endpoint. Shadow Country is a reminder, that to a lot of Europe, such a simplistic summation of such a complex history was never possible.

Shadow Country is very well constructed with stunning cinematography, but the story is unquestionably bleak. It is a historical drama that is clearly intended for our modern world of increasingly stratified politics, though it provides only warnings rather than answers. Within its lengthy running time is little to restore faith in humanity.

RATING: 4/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Magdaléna Borová, Csongor Kassai, Stanislav Majer, Petra Spalková

DIRECTOR: Bohdan Sláma

WRITER: Ivan Arsenyev

SYNOPSIS: A seemingly friendly village in Czechoslovakia is fundamentally shaken by the arrival of the Second World War. With half the town siding with the Nazis and the other half persecuted by their own neighbours. As time passes and the world changes life in the town only continues to grow darker.

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