Film about controversial freedom fighters selected for Czechia's Oscar submission

Few topics from modern Czech history arouse as much emotion as the fate of the Mašín brothers. A new film aims to tell their story objectively. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 12.09.2023 09:54:00 (updated on 15.09.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

The Czech film Brothers (Bratři) has been selected as the Czech Republic's Oscar submission for Best International Feature Film category by the Czech Film and Television Academy from a field of 12 films last week.

Voting by the academy's members took place from Sept. 1-10. Brothers beat out films including Bod obnovy (Restore Point), Němá tajemství (Silent Secrets), Piargy, and Úsvit (We Have Never Been Modern) for the Oscar nomination slot.

Directed by Tomáš Mašín, a distant relation, the film tells the story of two brothers who took up arms against the communist regime in Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s, escaping into West Germany. Oskar Hes and Jan Nedbal are cast in the main roles.

Still controversial

Only a few topics from modern Czech history arouse as much emotion as the fate of the Mašín brothers, whom some view as heroes who resisted oppression, while others criticize their violent methods. The film aims to objectively depict their perspective and journey.

The film dramatizes a 30-day manhunt after which only the two Mašín brothers and their friend Milan Paumer would ultimately make it to West Berlin. In Czechoslovakia, the communist regime harshly punished their family and friends and used their actions to justify tight control over society.

The three men, Václav Švéda, Zbyněk Janata, and Ctibor Novák (played in the film by Zátopek star Václav Neuzil) who helped the brothers were sentenced to death and executed, with their bodies buried anonymously. Decades later, farewell letters to their families were found.

Others from the brothers' circle received long prison sentences. Their mother Zdena Mašínová, played in the film by Tatiana Dyková, who had no involvement in their activities, died in prison in 1956 with no medical care, despite her terminal illness. Even their young sister was jailed. Today she is viewed as a symbol of resistance by anti-communist groups in the Czech Republic.

The Mašín brothers controversy explained

  • The brothers' armed resistance against the communist regime in Czechoslovakia in the early 1950s included raids on police stations where officers were killed. This violated a generally non-violent resistance in Czechoslovakia at the time.
  • When they escaped to West Germany, their actions further included killing East German police officers in a shootout during their attempted escape across the border. This resulted in a massive manhunt by East German and Soviet forces, with losses on both sides.
  • Their story remains controversial in the Czech Republic today. Some see them as freedom fighters, while others abhor their sometimes brutal killings of police officers.
  • Politicians have struggled to take a clear position on the brothers' place in history. In recent years former president Miloš Zeman refused to award state medals to the Mašín brothers; Petr Pavel will likely take the same stance when awarding state honors this year.

Brothers will have its theatrical premiere in Czechia on Oct. 26, seventy years after the brothers' escape across the Iron Curtain.

The Oscar shortlist of fifteen foreign films will be published on Dec. 21 this year, and the nominations on Jan. 23, 2024. The 96th Academy Awards ceremony is planned for March 10, 2024.

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