Marek Najbrt’s Protektor takes place in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia as the Holocaust in Europe unfolds.
Framed by the assassination of Nazi overlord Reinhard Heydrich, this Czech feature film will be screened by the Toronto Jewish Film Society on Sept. 22 at 4 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. at the Al Green Theatre (750 Spadina Avenue).
The plot, though straightforward, is shot through with twists.
Hana (Jana Plodkova), a vivacious Jewish actress, declines a golden opportunity to leave a country under siege. Germany has already occupied the Sudetenland and will soon swallow up the rest of Czechoslovakia, imperilling its Jewish citizens.
But Hana, headstrong and self-absorbed, is convinced she can weather the approaching storm. Her husband, Emil (Marek Daniel), a mild-mannered non-Jewish journalist, promises to protect her come what may. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you,” he says.
He is so devoted to her that he makes a pact with the devil. He becomes a Nazi collaborator, agreeing to work for a German radio station on the understanding that Hana will not be harmed or deported.
In a burst of selflessness, Hana urges Emil to seek a divorce, but he refuses. He truly loves Hana and intends to stand by her. Buoyed by his loyalty, she says, “This can’t last forever. We have to hold on.” To which he replies, “I’ll look after us. I’ll protect you.”
Emil’s popularity as a Nazi broadcaster eventually damages his relationship with Hana. And Hana’s foolish insistence on leaving the safety of their house to watch movies at a theatre endangers them both.
The film, 100 minutes in length, skillfully and succinctly charts Czechoslovakia’s descent into purgatory. Najbrt creates an aura of uncertainty, apprehension and fear, but not in a clumsy or heavy-handed style.
The two leads, Plodkova and Daniel, blend into their respective roles with effortless ease. Hana is a loose cannon, capable of wreaking havoc. Emil, sober, stolid and uncomplaining, is a rock of stability and dependability, at least until he can no longer live with himself.
Protekor recreates a dark period in the history of a small country raped by Nazi aggression.