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Czechs hope for Academy Award glory

World War II film ‘Zelary’ nominated for best foreign film

And the winner is ...

“Zelary,” Czechs hope to hear at Sunday’s Academy Awards. The wartime story of love and the art of accepting the inevitable is among the five nominees for best foreign-language film.

It’s another shot at Oscar glory for director and producer Ondrej Trojan. In 2001, a movie he produced, “Divided We Fall,” lost the foreign-language award to Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

This time, his chances of winning look better, although the Canadian film “The Barbarian Invasion” is considered to be a front-runner.

“It’s a strong, human story, regardless of the time in which it is placed,” Trojan says of his film, set in the small mountain village of Zelary during World War II.

It’s the story of a clash of two different worlds — of the love of two completely different people in a beautiful place where everyday life often is ruled by the cruel laws of nature.

The will to live and to loveThe film opens in 1943 in an unnamed town where, after the Nazis closed Czech universities, a medicine student named Eliska works as a nurse in local hospital.

She and her lover — a surgeon, Richard — along with another doctor from her hospital are active in the anti-Nazi resistance movement.

After the Gestapo starts hunting them, Eliska gets new identity and is sent with Joza, a patient whose life she helped to save, to his mountain village to hide.

In Godforsaken Zelary, the urban girl Eliska begins another life as Hana, the wife of simple and uneducated Joza, with whom she finally falls in love.

“For me, it’s about the strength of will to live and to accept or reject the fate,” said Ana Geislerova, who stars as Eliska and later Hana in the film. “Sometimes to resist fate requires some heroism, but sometimes more heroism is needed to accept it.”

The cast is mostly Czech with some prominent exceptions, including Hungarian actor Gyorgy Cserhalmi of the 1981 Oscar-winning movie “Mefisto.”

Geislerova, a hugely popular Czech actress who already holds a prominent Czech film award, was a clear choice from the very beginning. Trojan said he was pleased at how the 27-year-old managed to play a character so different from her earlier roles.

“In the first part of the movie, she did not have to act at all — it was just her. But I was curious how she would manage to play a different character where she wouldn’t be able to rely on her experience,” he said.

Coming to the U.S. this springThe film, distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, will be released in the United States this spring, although no exact date has been set yet. In the Czech Republic, it has drawn some 500,000 filmgoers since September — a relatively high number in this country of 10 million.

Trojan says it’s important for the film to be successful in the United States, because it would make it easier to screen it around Europe.

“I wonder how Ana will be received in America,” he says. “She’s one of the few actresses here who could also make it abroad.”

Oscar or no Oscar, Ana herself seems relaxed.

“For me, the great success was that my father didn’t leave the screening in the middle,” she said. “He watched the film ’til the end.”