London Film Festival 2020: Shadow Country Review

With the next London Film Festival film, I wanted to make sure I saw at least one more foreign language film, and looking at what was available, this one seemed interesting. The idea of a film looking at World War 2 through the eyes of a village on the Czech-Austrian border was interesting, and this would also mark the first Czech film I’d seen. However, whilst there are some interesting ideas, the film as a whole is a bit underwhelming.

Taking place over several years, the film focuses on a town on the Czech-Austria border going from the start of World War 2 to when it became part of the Eastern Bloc. Throughout the film, we see instances of nationalist identity within the villagers, some identifying as Czech, others as German, at the start of World War 2, along with growing tensions between the townspeople, agricultural issues and long term political divides resulting from the Nazi control of the town, extending several years after the end of the war. Whilst I think the themes of nationalism and identity are interesting, I don’t think the film gives enough time to really explore the themes. The scenes set in 1939 and 1945, where national identity play the biggest role, are the most compelling sections of the film, and it also helps that these are some of the longest sections in the film.

That’s really where I think the film falls down, the film covers such a long period of time in just over two hours that there isn’t really time for the film to go in depth with its themes or with the character development. There are well over a dozen characters, all given weight in the film, but we don’t have enough time to properly learn about them. There are some good character beats, but not enough to make me truly invested in the characters, but you can see the foundations of a good story here. This is really a film that would benefit more from being a mini-series, each episode focusing on a different year. This would have given more time for character development and allowed for the town itself to become a more defined character in the film.

Shadow Country is a film where there is a lot of promise, and the times when the film lives up to that promise are well executed, but is clearly a case where more time was needed to make the film truly pop. The story of this town and the themes of national identity probably would have been best explored through a mini-series rather than a film. Again, the parts that work are solid, but it just needed to be longer with more room to breathe.

My Rating: 3/5

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