I remember seeing a small handbill in a college basement around 1980. One of the films to be screened was THE END OF AUGUST AT THE HOTEL OZONE. The title intrigued, but, being the typical "too busy College Student" I did not attend the showing. So, for about a quarter century the title just lingered in my memory. Unreachable. I've NEVER heard of it screening anywhere, playing on TV or available on video or DVD (even in bootleg form). The title itself was so tantalizing, promising perhaps something apocalyptic (END OF "THE WORLD" not "AUGUST" perhaps?) or mysterious (a Hotel in the Ozone Layer?). And, of course, its sheer scarcity could only enhance the mystery, the suspense. Then, there it was in the American Cinemateque schedule. Oh, NO, I wasn't going to miss it this time! I had been up for work since 4 AM (!) and had worked a full 12 hour day. But, I was NOT to be denied! While the film does not quite live up to its evocative title (there was no reasonable way it could), it's still a find Eastern European contribution to the Post-Nuke, End-Of-The-World and Lord of the Flies sub-genre(s).
After an oblique reference to the Nuclear calamity that man inflicted upon itself some 15 years earlier, the film proper begins slowly as we come to see a band of young, presumably fertile women, led by a wise old sage. I emphasize the word slowly, because the pace is off-putting at first. Events do happen and we get a picture of the women's pathetic and lonely existence. I particularly admired the fact that they are not scrubbed clean, shaved, manicured and primped and prettified as they doubtless would have been in an American production - Remember all those "lost women" films where the tribal women look like beauty contestants (indeed a couple of the actresses are very attractive, just unkempt)?! But, the glacial pacing is almost enough to drive most viewer's patience beyond the brink. Once the group stumbles upon an old man and his "Hotel Ozone", the film comes into its own. Where the viewer is naturally inclined to sympathize with the women (if they had been men would we be so accepting?) despite some cruel, savage and disturbing activities (particularly towards animals), slowly we come to see a fuller and less positive view towards them. This reversal is doubtless intentional and packs a strong visceral punch. The final images of this band of lost ladies wandering a barren landscape is both heart-breaking and depressingly believable.
It's to the film's credit that we are not given a false or tidy ending: Befitting a title as gloriously ambiguous as THE END OF AUGUST AT THE HOTEL OZONE.
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