I learned about this Czech film a couple of years ago via screenwriter/blogger Robert Avrech. It’s not very well known in the U.S. and wasn’t then available on Netflix (though it is now), so I bought it, and just re-watched it…definitely a film worth seeing more than once. Friendship, love, and war, and some aspects of history that are probably unfamiliar to most Americans.
When Czechoslovakia was occupied by German troops in 1938, many Czech pilots made their way to the West and served with the Royal Air Force. After the war, surviving/returning pilots were imprisoned by Czechoslovakia’s new Communist government, which feared that they had been contaminated by Western ideas.
Franta Slama is a Czech air force captain. His younger protege and friend, Karel Vojtisek, is an aspiring fighter pilot. After the humiliating surrender of the airfield to an ungracious German officer, Franta and Karel escape the country via motorcycle. Franta leaves behind his girlfriend, Hanicka, and his beloved dog Barcha. Karel is not in a relationship, but is girl-crazy to a degree even greater that typical for his age.
In Britain, a Czech fighter unit is formed and Franta and Karel learn to fly Spitfires. After being shot down by a German bomber, Karel makes his way to a house and meets Susan, an Englishwoman whose Royal Navy husband has been missing for a year and will probably not return. Susan sleeps with Karel, probably as much out of kindness as anything else, and Karel falls obsessively in love with her.
When Susan meets Franta, though, she is powerfully attracted to him. Franta tries feebly to resist, but his resistance does not last for long. Karel is practically unhinged to discover that his commander and best friend has won the woman that he loves. As their friendship breaks apart, the two men must of course continue flying missions together.
Will Karel and Franta survive the war?
Will their friendship ever be restored?
Who will wind up with Susan in the end?
What has become of Hanicka in wartime Czechoslovakia?
I’m not tellin’…watch the move. Perhaps not a great film, but a very good one. Excellent acting (including a stellar performance by the dog who plays Barcha), with well-done flying sequences. In Czech, with (readable) subtitles.
Robert Avrech’s short review of the film is here.