Film dramatising controversial Mašín brothers’ story put forward for Oscars


The film ‘Brothers’, a retelling of the Cold War story of the controversial Mašín brothers, has been selected by the Czech Film and Television Academy as the Czech Oscar nominee for 2024. Written by top Czech screenwriter Marek Epstein, the film dramatises the events surrounding the Mašín brothers forming an armed resistance group and escaping from communist Czechoslovakia to West Berlin, a topic which remains divisive to this day.

Josef and Ctirad Mašín went down in history after they and Milan Paumer, another member of their armed resistance group, managed to evade capture and escape to West Berlin in 1953. They are regarded by some as heroes, but many others consider them to be cold-blooded murderers, as they killed six people as they fought their way out of the country.

Brothers | Photo: Zuzana Panská,  CinemArt

The film that dramatises these events was directed by a distant relative of the brothers, Tomáš Mašín, who says he finds the heroes-or-villains debate somewhat redundant.

“That is a question generated long ago in the communist era – the communists created this black-or-white view. So I refuse to answer on principle – I won’t say yes or no.”

'Brothers' | Photo: Zuzana Panská,  CinemArt

Actress Tatiana Dyková, who plays the part of the brothers’ mother, Zdena Mašínová, says that people should go and watch the film before making up their mind about the Mašíns, as the film portrays the events without telling people what to think.

“The film was made so that viewers can make up their own minds. It was written that way and I hope it was cut that way, too. Rather than forming an opinion from afar, people can watch the film and really engage with these questions themselves. Trying to judge something which happened in the 1950s from today’s perspective seems strange to me.”

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Zdena Mašínová died in 1956 after several years of incarceration by the secret police in retribution for her sons’ escape, during which she was tortured and denied medical treatment. Tomáš Mašín says he wanted the character to play an important role in the film, as she did in real life.

“For me, the female characters were essential, so from the start I pushed for them to be in the screenplay. And they are there, portrayed very strongly.”

'Brothers' | Photo: Zuzana Panská,  CinemArt

Zdena Mašínová was posthumously awarded the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk while the brothers, who later moved to America and served in the US Army, have had a harder time receiving recognition in their home country.

'Brothers' | Photo: Zuzana Panská,  CinemArt

In 2004, the Czech Senate voted to grant them state honours, but that decision was overruled by then-president Václav Klaus. In 2011, then-defence minister Alexandr Vondra decorated the Mašín brothers for bravery, but several people reportedly filed charges against him, saying that in decorating the Mašín brothers he had in effect approved and sanctioned murder. By some polls more than half of Czechs consider the brothers to be cold-blooded murderers.

However, despite the controversy, director Tomáš Mašín says the story was practically asking to be made into a film.

'Brothers' | Photo: Zuzana Panská,  CinemArt

“There are some personal elements in the film, but I didn’t use it to try to deal with my own family history or anything like that. The story seemed to me to be made for the big screen – it’s dramatic, it has strong characters, and that period of time is in itself very dramatic and photogenic. Then, of course, there is also the message, which is very close to my heart – that if someone is shooting at you, you have to shoot back.”

The film, which premieres in Czech cinemas on October 26, was selected from 12 feature and documentary films to become the Czech Oscar nominee. However, of the three men, only Josef Mašín has lived to see it – his brother Ctirad died in 2011, while fellow resistance fighter Milan Paumer passed away a year earlier, in 2010.

The shortlist of 15 films selected for the Best International Film category at the Oscars will be announced on December 21, while the final five nominees will be announced on January 23, 2024. The 96th Academy Awards ceremony is planned for March 10, 2024.

Authors: Anna Fodor , Martin Hrnčíř , Kristina Roháčková | Source:
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