You gotta love a good film noir. The mystery, the intrigue, the suspicious motives, the great clothing, the dark shadows…
IN THE SHADOW from the Czech Republic is one such film. Set in the 1950s (when the country was known as Czechoslovakia), it is the story about a run-of-the-mill jewellery heist that gets turned into a political affair.
A bit of history…
In the spring of 1953, the Czechoslovak Communist Party implemented currency reforms that essentially wiped out people’s savings overnight. This followed a series of Jewish Show Trials in Prague, the most notable of them seeing Rudolf Slansky, who was one of the leading creators and organisers of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, fighting for his life. Czechoslovakia’s Jews were being accused of financing a Zionist operation aided by the US. What the trials really were about was a power struggle over the control of direction within the country’s Communist leadership.
In the film, an honest and dedicated police captain learns that, under orders from the State Security Department, his investigation into this simple robbery is being taken over by a major from the East German police. According to his superiors, the theft was meant to support the Jewish community in “financing Zionist terrorism”.
Even though members of the Jewish community confess to the crimes and are given to a trial that is nothing more than a propaganda show, the police captain’s instincts tell him that something is amiss. This sets him in conflict with both the major and his own boss who see the case as the government wants them to see it.
But, as I wrote above, this is a film noir, and both things and people aren’t what they seem. The challenge for the police captain and for the audience is to figure out whom to trust. And that’s where the film gets good.
IN THE SHADOW was the big winner at the Czech Lions last year, taking home nine awards. It also won awards at some prestigious festivals in the US, showing that the story has legs. It also featured at last year’s Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival, where it was highly acclaimed.
The film stars mostly Czech actors, whose names and faces may be new to most HK movie goers. The actor who plays the German major, however, is very familiar. He is Sebastian Koch, whom audiences will recognise from the Dutch film BLACK BOOK and the German film THE LIVES OF OTHERS – both excellent films.
IN THE SHADOW will be screened at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Go see it.
Listen to the review online on Radio 3. (Click on the link. Scroll down to “Howard Elias – HK International Film Festival” and click again.)