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DVD Review

DVD cover



Starring: Jan Meduna and Peter Vanek
High Fliers Films
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Available 07 September 2009

One of the turning points of the Second World War was the battle of Tobruk, where the Germans were finally halted, following a five month siege of the city. The coalition forces combined British, Australian and Czechoslovakian soldiers - many young men inexperienced and ill equipped for the full horror of war. Into this event is thrown Jiri Pospichal, a naive young man whose views on heroism are shattered by the realities of desert warfare.

Tobruk (2008 - 1 hr, 39 min) is a war film directed by Vaclav Marhoul, who tells the story from the perspective of new Czechoslovakian recruits. The film was loosely based on Stephen Cranes book ‘The Red Badge of Courage’, which has already previously been filmed. The film won three Czech Lions awards and was nominated for a further three.

The structure is not dissimilar to Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) as it follows Jiri (Jan Meduna) and his friend Jan Lieberman (Peter Vanek) through their basic training, during which they clash with the brutal Corporal Kohak (Robert Nebrensky). Kohak is the antithesis of Jiri, who feels that war is honourable and that the cause that they are fighting for is the right one. Jiri even feels disgust at his own father for collaborating with the Nazis’. Kohak on the other hand is a born killer, a brute of a man who will even beat his own men. It is when Jan stands up to the corporal in a boxing match that his real friendship with Jiri begins. But moral high ground or not, all three men are thrown together, in the war, a war which culminates in them going on a fateful patrol together.

The film is a solid war flick with some good production values, though it lacks the scope of many war films. We don’t see many Germans or Italians, just the bullets and shells which they fire. The men are isolated and death is an arbitrary event. This form of war slowly erodes Jiri’s conviction that this is an honourable way to fight.

Jan Meduna, does well in his first starring role, portraying the right level of bemusement and disgust at Kohak’s behaviour, both towards the enemy and his own men. I’m not sure that his transition to warrior is as strong as it should have been; the slow realisation which transforms him could have been much stronger. Peter Vanek does better as the pragmatic Lieberman. As a Jew he is even hated by some of his own side. The best performance, and I guess it’s because he has few moments of nuance to contend with, is the despicable Kohak. Nebrensky’s portrayal of the man never lets up even in the face of his own death.

What the film does lack is depth of character, I’m not sure I knew much more about these men at the end of the film, which made caring for their plight all the more difficult. Add to that the fact that there is little in this film which has not already been said and done before what you are left with is a good war film, but not one which has anything different to say.

The disc only contained the film, presented in wide screen and a 2.0 stereo audio track. The film is presented in Czechoslovakian with burnt in English subtitles.


Charles Packer

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