(Krajina ve stínu)
Shadow Country is showing at BFI London Film Festival from 14th – 17th October
The horror of war on communities, cultures and countries can take many different forms. From the devastation of conflict, through to the erosion of security and safety. But for communities sitting on the borders of countries embroiled in war. The effects are often rooted in segregation and displacement. With border towns and villages, the subject of subjugation as social structures are torn apart. Here in Europe, the countries most affected over the past 70 years have been our Eastern European neighbours. With a history that has seen states bounce from far-right control under the Third Reich to Soviet communism, before returning to independence.
From the early 1930s to late 1950s, turbulence surrounded the experience of many Eastern European nations. With many countries having been subject to Nazi occupation, holocaust, rebellion and Soviet rule. However, one country, in particular, is often forgotten when discussing the origins and outcomes of war; Czechoslovakia. It’s turbulent history placing it at the epicentre of both the start and end of the Second World War and the Cold War that followed.
In 1939 the world happily turned a blind eye to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia; its sovereignty and people a mere negotiating tool during the ill-fated ‘Munich Pact’ of 1938. However, by the following September, the lack of international concern had given free rein to Hitler. His next move the invasion of Poland; igniting the flames of World War Two. However, despite the bravery of Czech resistance fighters and soldiers, many of whom fought alongside allied forces. The experience of Czech towns and villages during the war remains all but hidden in history. While at the same time, the effects of Russian control and reform post-war also remain mostly silent. The post-war era leading to the sanctioned expulsion and murder of German-speaking Czech’s. Many of whom had changed their citizenship to German under occupation for protection.
It is within this turbulent history that Bohdan Sláma’s Shadow Country (Krajina ve stínu) finds a distinct voice. The fate of one small village, Tušť on the Czech-Austrian border, explored over 14 years. Within a sweeping journey that reflects the fragility of peace and the outcomes of segregation. The village and its residents wrapped in a forced social change that shakes the very foundations of community. As their need for identity, belonging, and safety dovetails with rebellion and allegiances of necessity.
Eight years in the making, Bohdan Sláma’s portrait of community upheaval and change is both stunning and intricate. With echoes of The Painted Bird in both design and the use of monochrome cinematography. However, unlike the uncompromising and relentless horror of Václav Marhoul’s masterpiece, Sláma delivers a far more nuanced reflection of humanity during war. The journey of each resident young and old grounded within the choices and decisions they make.
Here, there are no easy answers, with each person making a judgement call based on their gut instinct. The decisions they make ultimately sealing their fate both during and after the war. While at the same time, others have their decision-making abilities swept from under them, as the holocaust breaches the walls of the sleepy town. Meanwhile, the hatred of war, and the devastating consequences of its horror, are reflected in individuals who escape persecution, only to persecute others.
With sublime direction and performances, Shadow Country is both beautiful, stark and revelatory in equal measure. The resulting film nothing short of a powerhouse of social history. While at the same time encouraging debate on the fragility of community. But, Shadow Country, just like The Painted Bird, is also a stark warning from history. A reminder that democracy is fragile, and human decision making erratic when fear and apprehension permeate society. Something we should all reflect on, and learn from, in a world where fear once more surrounds our communities.
Director: Bohdan Sláma