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Film of love amid Holocaust shown in Czech Embassy movie series in Washington

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Love thrives amid the terrors of Auschwitz in the film "Colette", screened just before Valentine's Day in the Czech Embassy's "Lions of Czech Film Series".

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"Colette" is based on a novel by Pulitzer Prize nominee Arnost Lustig, a Czech-born Jew who survived three concentration camps, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1970.

Lustig was a literature professor at Washington's American University, and wrote more than 20 acclaimed books including "Colette, A Girl from Antwerp". He was awarded a literary prize by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. After Lustig retired, he moved back to Prague, where he died at age 84 in 2011.

The 2013 film, in English, tells of Colette and Vili, who find love and some hope in Auschwitz. "Love is the force that empowers us to live...and fly like the birds," Vili comments.

The horrifying life in the killing camp is portrayed in all its gruesomeness:

  • The camp's SS commander takes Colette as a sex slave, and even has fellatio under a portrait of Hitler.
  • The Nazi official also gets pleasure from blowing cinders of incinerated victims from his hand, while saying "Ashes to ashes..." and "They had all the things we could not afford. God is fair." And even, "God made man, and man made concentration camps".
  • Vili is twice given savage, prolonged beatings, and hovers near death.
  • Other torture and hangings abound, while the inmate band plays a Strauss waltz.
  • When Vili cleans latrines, waist deep in excrement, he finds an enormous diamond that he names Colette.

But the film also focuses on the mutual support of fellow inmates, and even Polish guards, who helped some prisoners survive.

The characters and plot are composites, based on Lustig's experiences in Auschwitz and two other camps from 1942-1945, when he was a teenager. While being transported to certain death at a fourth camp, Dachau, Lustig escaped from the cattle car after an American bomber destroyed the train's engine.

"How did you survive," asks a character in "Colette". The response: "A miracle."

The next film in the Lions of Czech series is "Honeymoon" on April 9, featuring a Q&A with its director, Jan Hrebejk. In "Honeymoon", a wedding in the Czech countryside is crashed by a stranger whose secrets cast a shadow over the festivities.

Most of the series' films have received the prestigious Czech Lion Award, the Czech Republic's equivalent of an Academy Award, plus other honors at recent film festivals. Also, most are hits in Europe.

For more info and tickets: "Lions of Czech Film Series", Avalon Theatre, www.theavalon.org, 5612 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C.

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