Tobruk (2008)

 

 

 

 

Director:    Václav Marhoul.

Starring:     Jan Meduna (Private Jiri Pospíchal),  Petr Vanek (Private Jan Lieberman),  Robert Nebrenský (Corporal Kohák),  Michal Novotný (Private Ruzicka),  Martin Nahálka (Sergeant Borný),  Matús Krátky (Private Janický),  Krystof Rímský (Private Kutina),  Petr Lnenicka (Private Sajda),  Andrej Polák (Private Dunda),  Petr Stach (Private Dubálek),  Radim Fiala (Lieutenant Halík),  Matej Hádek (Redhead),  Karel Klinovsky (Battalion Commander),  Petr Halberstadt (Battalion Doctor),  Petr Vrsek (Battalion Chaplain),  Elaine Cristina Weissova (Whore),  Ashley White (British Sergeant),  Daniel Margolius (Italian POW).

Battle of Tobruk; Czech soldiers successfully the positions they hold during the Battle of Tobruk

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

 

"The events shown in this film as well as the characters portrayed are fictional." Story based on Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage.

A group of Czech soldiers are being transported in the back of a truck heading for their unit. They bounce along as the truck trudges through the sand of the desert. One of the fellows is Jewish. He and one other man are the only ones in civilian clothes.

1941. Agami, Egypt. 598 km. [Today Agami is a city in the Alexandria Governorate of Egypt. Situated 20 km west of Alexandria, the town is a popular destination for both local Alexandrians and tourists in Giza and Cairo.] The two men, Privates Jan Lieberman and Jiri Pospíchal stand at attention before the officer in charge. They are assigned to the 1st squad of 2nd platoon. Their commander is Sergeant Borný and his deputy is Corporal Kohák.

The men change into their military uniforms. The corporal takes the two men over to their cots in a large tent. The corporal refers to poor Lieberman as the Jew Boy. Lieberman doesn’t like it, but does not complain.

The two new recruits get their lunch and go to the squad’s table to eat. Private Ruzicka stands up and welcomes them to the "best squad from the Euphrates to Benghazi."

The men are put to the test. Lieberman has to use the butt of his rifle to make it up a sand hill and he is really exhausted. When the squad goes back down hill Private Kutina deliberately bumps his body into Lieberman, knocking the man down. The corporal yells at Kutina saying that a Czech soldier doesn’t act that way.  They go back down the sand dune to race back up. Another squad passes by them and one joker says about Lieberman: "We’ll carry him up the hill! Just say the word!" A man from the first squad says to Lieberman: "That’s all we needed, fucking Jewboy."

Lieberman develops some really nasty blisters and Pospíchal gives him his can of foot powder to put powder on his feet.   The guys all go to the showers to get clean. (nudity) They start teasing Lieberman again. Pospíchal hands the tall Lieberman a bar of soap.

The guys have to stay in their tents as a sand storm blows throw the area.

The soldiers now take target practice. Lieberman gets his rifle jammed up, so the corporal unjams it for him. Lieberman shoots and just barely hits the edge of the target card. The corporal says: "Maybe you’re doing it on purpose Lieberman. It’s always the way with your people. Perhaps you’d sooner be sitting at a typewriter." Pospíchal deliberately fires at Lieberman’s target and gets a direct hit on the target.

In a boxing ring, the corporal beats up on Lieberman, who fights more like a girl. The fight should have been stopped, but probably because of prejudice the referee lets it go on too long.  But at least Lieberman’s doesn’t take a deliberate dive.   Lieberman has a terrible looking black eye and somebody throws a boot at him. Ruzicka, the biggest guy in the squad, goes over to Lieberman, picks up the thrown boot and throws it at the trouble maker. He then takes the boot that Lieberman was polishing and polishes it for him.

At night two squad men throw a blanket over the corporal’s head, knock him to the ground and kick him numerous times. Then they run away.  The next day the corporal sports a black eye and a nasty looking bruise on his lower lip. He insults the squad by saying they are a bunch of "yellow nancy boys".

At break time the guys talk about how the Germans will kill them if they get taken prisoner. They consider the countries they occupied as part of their Reich and, therefore, any soldier found fighting for the Allies will be considered traitors and traitors are shot.

Lieberman and Pospíchal get a little leave. They go into town and into a drinking place. They sit down at a table next to some Aussie soldiers. A huge Aussie grabs Pospíchal’s hat off his head and removes an insignia. Pospíchal is definitely worried about what might happen. But the fellow takes an insignia off his own uniform and gives it to Pospíchal. He then indicates with hand gestures that he wants to swap insignias. Pospíchal breathes a sigh of relief.

The next scene shows the two Czechs having a ball with the Aussies at the Australian table. And yet, the big guy throws Pospíchal onto the table, the men throw money onto his front side, then wrap him in a sheet and take him to a prostitute.

The prostitute takes the money from Pospíchal and starts working on him. The young fellow is repulsed by this and pushes her so hard away from him that she hits her head on the backboard of the bed. She then starts screaming at the young guy. She is a big, strong woman and she soon has him on the floor, knocking his head against it and still yelling at him saying she won’t put up with this kind of disrespectful behavior. Pospíchal has to crawl out of the room.

The two friends sit by the water and have even more drinks. They start criticizing their corporal for being so brutal with them. Then Pospíchal gets a big laugh when he says: "Well at least we did a bit of shoving." Lieberman says after the war he is going to open up a fine book store. Pospíchal says his father has a factory back home, but now he is producing equipment for the Wehrmacht.

Lieberman saves the life of Pospíchal because the latter was so drunk that he passed out and fell into the water. He would have drowned if Lieberman hadn’t jumped in to save him and then pushed the water out of his lungs.

A briefing is being held for the officers. Operational order for the 70th Infantry Division. The unit will relocate to Amiriya military camp to reinforce the main body of the battalion. Then the entire battalion will be transported by sea from Alexandria to Tobruk, Libya. Tobruk is currently under total siege by Gen. Rommel’s Afrikakorps and four Italian divisions. The battalion is assigned to the Polish Independent Brigade Group.

The Polish group will be placed in thirteen bunkers along a 6 km stretch of the western defensive perimeter. There they only have the sea to their back.

At night the Czech troops move out. Then they travel by ship to Tobruk, Libya 23km. As they disembark the wounded and dead are placed on the ship.

Tobruk, Red Line 0.0 km. The Czech troops come under artillery fire. When that finishes, a few shots are exchanged by the two enemy groups.

The troops relax. One fellow takes a hand shower standing in a small container. All of a sudden, the fellow is hit by an artillery shell and his two legs are blown off. The fellow tries to drag himself up the hill to some cover, but he dies while trying to do it. The men bury the body.

A second lieutenant comes in to talk with Sergeant Borný. He wants to make sure the sergeant will see to it that an observation post is set up. The sergeant says he will make sure the post is built.

In the next bombardment the observation post just set up is destroyed. The Czechs wait at the ready for a German attack. Another artillery attack is launched and then here come the attackers. Soon the attackers retreat because they suffer too many casualties.

Another short artillery attack starts. One of the shells land somewhat near to Pospíchal and he feels the after effects of the blast. Another shell hits somewhat near to Pospíchal and he starts running away. He looks back at the defensive works and sees a tremendous amount of shells hitting the line. He figures his buddies are all wiped out and starts crying.  Pospíchal starts walking and soon doesn’t really know where he is. He just keeps on walking. He takes some shelter underneath an overhanging rock. At night he studies the stars.

The next day he finds what looks like an Italian helmet. A little later he sees the corpse of a dead Italian soldier. Pospíchal throws the helmet down and starts off running again.

Pospíchal now runs out of water. He finally comes to a dirt road and sits by it for awhile. He sees a truck coming over the hills on the dirt road. The truck stops for him and they put Pospíchal in the back of the truck.

One of the wounded men recognizes Pospíchal saying he remembers seeing him at training camp. "I said you’re one of ours, aren’t you?" Pospíchal nods his head yes. The guy says that was quite a fight but thye stood their ground.  Pospíchal asks: "We’re . . , not retreating?" The guy shoots back at him: "Of course not."

The other guy now asks where did Pospíchal get wounded? Pospíchal sees someone he knows toward the back of the truck and rushes over to him. He tells his friend that he will take care of him.

The truck has a flat tire and Pospíchal and two other guys have to help change the tire. Pospíchal sees his friend walking away from the truck. He rushes after him and tries to turn him around, but the friend refuses to go back. He walks forward a few more steps and then collapses dead on the ground.

The wounded man asking all the questions now goes over to the dead man to take the ring off his finger. Pospíchal gets angry at this and pushes the guy to the ground and starts hitting him. The wounded man grabs a rock and strikes Pospíchal twice on the head and Pospíchal falls unconscious.

When Pospíchal regains consciousness he has blood running down the side of his face on the left side. He digs a grave for his friend and then buries him. He covers the grave with rocks. He starts walking again and then falls unconscious.

When Pospíchal awakens again he is back with his old unit. Lieberman is watching over him, wiping the blood off his face and head. The corporal is going to say something nasty about Pospíchal when he is told to leave the room. A little later Pospíchal is left alone to get some sleep.

Three Czechs bring in what looks like an Italian POW. They give him some water. The corporal comes over and shoots the prisoner in the head. He comments: "We are few and you bring in a prisoner?"

Pospíchal saw all this. At lunch he tells Lieberman that this killing of a prisoner should be reported . Lieberman says he doesn’t care what happened to the prisoner. "Those bastards don’t deserve anything else!"

The Czechs see a huge sand storm headed right toward them. They get back in their billets. After the storm the men have to remove the sand blocking their positions. Pospíchal is working hard to remove the sand, but the corporal tells him: "You won’t make up for it now, laddie." Lieberman tells the corporal to leave Pospíchal alone. So the corporal takes a shovelful of sand and throws it right in Lieberman’s face. This makes Pospíchal mad and he attacks the corporal. He hits the corporal several times, but when the corporal gets his wits back, he goes after Pospíchal, who gets so frustrated from missing his next few swings at the corporal that he grabs a bayonet to go after the nasty guy. Now Rusicka intervenes to stop Pospíchal asking the fighter if he has gone crazy?

The sergeant comes out and demands to know what happened here? No one will say a thing. The sergeant has to forget the matter since no one will talk.

The sergeant tells the corporal that he is to carry reconnoiter the area at elevation point 67. He is to take two men with him and leave in 30 minutes.  The corporal selects Pospíchal and Lieberman. They prepare to go out.

The men go out. They stop for at rest at the site of a downed German aircraft.

When they get moving again the corporal tells the two men to go up onto the next ridge and look over it. They should be able to see the Italian troops from there. The corporal follows after them. He looks like he’s thinking about shooting the two soldiers in the back, when a machine gun opens up on the corporal and hits him several times. He falls to the ground but can’t move from the place.

Pospíchal wants to pull the corporal to safety, but Lieberman doesn’t care. Pospíchal keeps thinking about it and suddenly rushes toward the corporal. The only thing he achieves is a wound in the left arm. Lieberman rushes out to rescue Pospíchal once again. He calls Pospíchal a mad man for rushing out into danger.

And yet, Lieberman keeps thinking about the corporal. He gives his machine gun to Pospíchal and tells him to give him some cover. Pospíchal agrees to the plan. Lieberman slowly pulls the corporal behind the shelter. When he looks over at his friend, he finds Pospíchal dead. This is very upsetting for Lieberman for he saved his enemy to lose his friend. Lieberman cries.

"This film is a profound tribute to the military veterans of World War II as well as to all members of the Czech and Slovak resistance at home. It is dedicated particularly to the 779 soldiers of the 11th Czechoslovak Infantry Battalion-East, who under the command of Lt. Colonel Karel Klapalek, successfully defended their positions near the Libyan port of Tobruk in the autumn of 1941."

 

The war film is a little slow compared to other World War II films.  And yet it was still very interesting.  We got to see the considerable anti-Semitism of the Czech troops toward Jewish soldier Lieberman.  Over time, as Lieberman performs well, the anti-Semitism starts weakening, but only a bit.  This weakening was greatly assisted when the biggest fellow in the unit stands up for Lieberman.  As in the Red Badge of Courage, Pospichal gets very frightened and deserts his post.  When he sees a huge bombardment hit the trenches, Pospichal figures his unit is completely destroyed.   He starts roaming around the desert and soon gets lost.  It's only later that he learns that the Czech unit held their positions.  That makes him feel a lot better, at least until he has to go back to dealing with the unit's anti-Semitic corporal.  This time Pospichal stands up for Lieberman and fights the bully corporal.  The film is dedicated to all Allied soldiers but focuses on the Czech soldiers who stood their ground in the Battle of Tobruk.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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