Opening 21 Aug 2008
Jan is a young man on his way up. He is small and blond with huge blue eyes. He has the demeanor of the village idiot, a cross between Pinocchio and Oskar in The Tin Drum, although nothing escapes his eagle eye. He begins his career as bus boy in a local pub in a small Czech town. From there he becomes a waiter in a fancier hotel and so on until finally he has his own hotel, which is frequented by such guests as the Emperor of Abyssinia who gives him a medal by default. He is a huge hit with the ladies, who enjoy his post-coital habit of decorating them with fruit and flowers. After the Treaty of Munich and the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, he sides with the occupiers, falls in love with a Fräulein and turns his hotel into a hostel for young German soldiers and beautiful German woman who copulate as part of Himmler’s Lebensborn project to create more Aryans for the master race. It is his former boss and head waiter who proudly “served the king of England,” although much good it does him in the end.
Czech director Jirí Menzel has won many prizes in his long career, for example the Oscar for Closely Watched Trains in 1966, or the Golden Berlinale Bear for Skylarks on a String in 1990. His film is a spoof on people who take themselves too seriously, and he has a wonderful tongue-in-cheek humor about human nature. All the characters are wonderful, but truly brilliant is the Bulgarian actor Ivan Barnev, who plays Jan as a young man. German actress Julia Jentsch plays the Fräulein. Menzel has a tradition of basing his films on books by Bohumil Hrabal, and this is no exception. I happily read Hrabel’s book in English and was amazed how well all scenes were picked up in the film. This is an excellent opportunity to see something wonderful from Eastern Europe. (Becky Tan)