Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (2006) Poster

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10/10
The pitfalls of being unpolitical
Steve Brook22 January 2008
Like the butler played by Anthony Hopkins in the 1994 film "The Remains of the Day", the waiter at the centre of "I Served the King of England" (Jiri Menzel, Czech Republic, 2006) is not interested in politics. Major historical events surround him, yet these completely escape his attention. His ambition is simply to become a millionaire, like the fat cats he serves at table. In 1930s Prague, Hitler, in Berlin, is making a radio announcement about his aim to "liberate" the Sudetenland. Bored, Jan Dite, the waiter, simply turns the dial to a dance music station.

He manages to float through the Nazi invasion, first of the Sudetenland, then of Czechoslovakia. By a combination of hook and crook, he achieves his ambition of owning his own hotel through the sale of valuable stamps, stolen from a vanished Jewish family. This does not give him a moment's pause but later, when he sees a trainload of Jews in cattle-cars moving off to Auschwitz, he has a rush of compassion and chases after the train in an attempt to hand the deportees a sandwich. After the war, as a self-confessed millionaire, he is sent to prison when his hotel is nationalised. He emerges fifteen years later, older, but not much wiser. He is Schweik, but without the latter's sly intelligence.

This sketchy summary cannot do justice to a film which has been described as a near-flawless masterpiece, in which "Prague has never looked better". It is permeated with the ironic wit which marked Menzel's earlier films, such as the Academy Award winning Closely Watched Trains (1966). Dite befriends the German girl Liza, described by one reviewer as "the sweetest little Nazi in the history of the cinema". They are in bed, making love in the missionary position. Liza keeps pushing his head aside so that she can gaze at the big picture of Adolf Hitler on the opposite wall. Such was love in the Third Reich. The scene in which Dite is undergoing a racial fitness test which involves giving a sperm sample is intercut with young Czech men being unloaded from a lorry at an execution ground. Of this, Dite is blissfully unaware.

The Remains of the Day was based on a serious and perceptive novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The genesis of I Served the King of England, by contrast, was a comic novel by Bohumil Hrabal, a book I cannot wait to get my hands on. Any offers?
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10/10
Beautiful and sweet film
fullmoon74613 February 2007
While filming a novel is always difficult.. I think this film captures the spirit of the novel.. one man' life as he succeeds and fails and survives and never seems to be really touched by the world events happening around him (the story starts in 1920's and ends mid-1960's) The actors are perfectly cast, especially the two actors playing Jan Dite. The cinematography is wonderful, as is the music. I have read the novel and I live in the Czech Republic, so I have familiarity with both the story and the culture, but I think the story is universal enough for all audiences to enjoy this film.

This is one of the biggest budget Czech films ever and you can see ALL of the money on the screen, costumes, sets and locations (including the beautiful Hotel Parziz in Prague, which is unchanged from when it was built!)

highly recommend this film to anyone who loves melancholy, sweet stories with a bit of political commentary thrown in for good measure....
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8/10
Political and social satire at its best in cinema
Jugu Abraham12 March 2008
The works of Czech director Jiri Menzel constitute a tasty cocktail of humanism and laughter. In this film, the cocktail is personified in the words spoken by the narrator and lead character early in the film: "It was always my luck to run into bad luck." Menzel's innocent male country bumpkins have simplistic goals in life—-get rich and charm the beautiful woman in their horizon. His films remind you of the social satire embedded in the works of Charles Chaplin and the visual gags in the cinema of Buster Keaton. Only Menzel's body of work has a dose of moral ambiguity.

While Menzel's cinema is often mistaken as being solely his own genius, he actually rides on the shoulders of three major literary giants of the former Czechoslovakia—Bohumil Hrabal, Vladislaw Vancura, and Zedenek Sverak. Menzel's cinema provides a convenient "easy read." of the fine literary tradition to which Milan Kundera belongs by bringing alive on screen slivers of statements and observations recorded by these novelists. Menzel's true gift is making the written word look attractive on screen with the use of imaginative visual gags. The spoken words (the writer's contribution) and carefully chosen actors serve as the pivot to enjoy the visual feast in Menzel's cinema. His mastery of visual comedy has made a major difference to Czech cinema being associated with comedy rather than drama, quite unlike other East European cinema where tragedies and serious drama overshadowed the comedy genre.

This film happens to be the sixth work of Hrabal that Menzel has adapted on screen—-the first being "Closely watched trains."

Politicians find satire uncomfortable. It is not surprising that Hrabal's novel "I served the King of England" was banned for years. When ultimately Menzel made it into a movie in 2006 using Hrabal's script, it won the FIPRESCI prize at Berlin. Menzel's cinema (and Hrabal's novels) has considerable political and social criticism. The film opens with clemency/pardon given to a prisoner who has almost completed his jail term. Communist political bigwigs wish to ape the capitalists, without a clue of what is required to gain social respect. Hrabal's script is clearly critical of the communist regime: "People who said social work was ennobling were the same men who drank all night and ate with lovely young women seated on their knees.' Butlers act superior to their new masters who do not know social etiquette. The new Czech communist politicos bend over backwards to please any one with the remotest Russian credentials. It is no small wonder that Hrabal got into trouble with the authorities until the political regime changed in recent years.

Apart from political criticism, social criticism of Czechs get liberally dished out in the film. When the physically short-statured waiter Jan Dite (literally translated as Johnny Child) throws coins on the floor for fun, rich and poor Czechs crawl without social distinction on the floor to pick up the money, allowing the short-statured waiter to look down at those he was serving and emerge physically and socially "tall" for a brief period. There is another line that Hrabal/Menzel uses to describe Czechs and their actions over the decades "Czechs do not fight wars—therefore we were not invaded, we were annexed." These are lines that will make many laugh, but these lines could make the author/ the director unpopular with a few who cannot take self criticism.

The quest for money and riches underpin this film in particular and much of Menzel's cinema. The film has the lead character selling sausages at a railway station. So engrossed is he in counting the change he has to return to a customer who has given him a big bank note, that the train pulls out with the angry customer fuming that he has been cheated. But Hrabal and Menzel had together done a similar scene in "Closely watched trains" where a train pulls out as the young hero is about to kiss his love with eyes closed, taking away his beloved girl whose eyes are open and is agitated that the kiss was missed.

Money is a recurring theme in "I served the King of England." The hero dreams of being a millionaire. One colorful character keeps himself amused spreading out cash on the floor like a carpet. Money is what waiter's get if he is good and smart, enough to buy up the hotel. He gets a medal from an Ethiopian Head of State, modeled on the physical attributes of Haile Selassie; merely because he can bend down to receive it. He gets a fat tip because he is physically near to a rich guest doling out his largesse.

After one has laughed sufficiently, one could reflect on the less obvious but darker side of Hrabal/Menzel's contribution to cinema. The women are lovely to look at. They bear a striking common factor—they are to be won. They are to be used, often as useful commodities. One Nazi girl even makes love, thinking of Hitler during the act. You do not see Hrabal and Menzel developing the women characters as they do their male ones. In this film, the anti-hero is dismissed from his job because he is not a good Czech.

"I served the King of England" are the spoken credentials of a respected waiter in the film as he trains the lead character of the film. Yet, the film is about a successful Czech who became a millionaire as he had dreamt, who married a Nazi and had enjoyed life when other Czechs were being led to the gas chambers, and was imprisoned when the Communists came to power. Hrabal and Menzel may have given us great comedy over six films. Evaluate the content closely and there is more to their work than pure comedy.
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7/10
One cannot help but admire it. Even if it doesn't quite reach the dizzying heights to which it aspires.
Chris_Docker13 August 2007
Maybe, like me, you don't know that much about the history of the country wherein sits Prague, and its remnants of regal splendour. After watching I Served the King of England, you will know more. A lot more. The politics. The humour. The cultures. The aspirations. The troubled relations with neighbouring empires. And the incredible resilience of its individuals.

I Served the King of England is very ambitious. It condenses an epic novel into two hours and squeezes in more styles than a catwalk. There are nods to the wit of Charlie Chaplin. The visual eulogies of Peter Greenaway. Penitentiaries, bars, brothels, woods, invading armies. All are collected in a dizzying montage as Jan Díte reviews the highs and lows of his life and loves in flashback.

He has just been released from Prague Correctional Facility, having served almost 15 years. He is also in rather humble circumstances. This seems to contrast with his lifelong and apparently successful ambition to become a millionaire. The first half of the film has a theatrical feel of unreality – much like a musical. Serving lad Díte manages to score with a local beauty at the nearby bordello. He then get various jobs that involve him working with sophisticated women of pleasure, or in top hotels, or sometimes both together. His short stature enables him to play many tricks, like surreptitiously throwing a handful of coins on the ground for the pleasure of watching rich men get down on their hands and knees with their bums in the air. One of his favourite penchants with the ladies, on the other hand, is to ornament their naked and prostrate forms with anything from flowers, to fruit, to funds from his growing pocket book. One particularly striking moment is when he decorates a naked brothel girl (who looks worryingly like Kylie Minogue) in large margarita daisies. The scene is as arresting as the nude-and-rose-petals shot in American Beauty, or the female-served-for-dinner in The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover.

Menzel's taste for a decadent protagonist is in no way sullied by shame. His whores are creatures of beauty: "The scent of raspberry trailed behind her. She stepped out in that silk dress, full of peonies, and bees hovered around her like a Turkish honey store." ('Bees' you will note, not 'flies'.) The description follows an incident where the lady in question pours raspberry grenadine over herself - to stop Díte from getting into trouble.

I Served the King of England soon becomes rife with political and social comment, even before we get to the eponymous and very loaded comment by Díte's boss boasting his resumé. Having treated us to sumptuous society, the film reminds us of the cost: "I discovered that those who said 'work is ennobling' were the same men who drank all night and ate with lovely young ladies seated on their knees." The palatial buildings, over-refined manners and ostentatious egregiousness of old Europe belie the fabled shangrila on which they are modelled. As we witness the Nazi and then Communist take-overs, the film touches on many issues that have affected the creation and difficult continuation of the country now known as the Czech Republic. Amusingly, the Nazi ideal of 'racial purity' enables Díte to continue his lifestyle - his German fiancé secures him a job at a breeding ground for top military studs.

The best parts of the film are full of beauty and sadness. An old man reminisces: "We, in the 20th century, are inclined to see the glory in ourselves and the shame in others – that's how the mess got started." The latter half of the film gradually becomes more serious in tone, even didactic. Here is your history lesson, insight into human nature, poetry and great literary adaptation all in one, it seems to be saying to us.

I Served the King of England is a film on an enormous scale. It makes a valiant attempt to be a masterpiece, but feels as if it didn't have quite enough time to display its flaunted genius. One cannot help but admire it. Even if it doesn't quite reach the dizzying heights to which it aspires.
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9/10
Unconventional Reliving of Czech History
hackerpx-123 August 2007
Menzel's film is a modern masterpiece. It tells the story of one man's fate, as seen through the mythical pen of Bohumil Hrabal, one of the greatest Czech writers of the 20th century. The film is interspersed with documentary footage of the occupation of the remnants of the Czech republic in 1939. It tells how one man grows up in one system, survives another, and willingly submits himself to a third (Communist). The slogan "my happiness was always in the fact that some unhappiness overtook me" belongs to the East European theater of the absurd. For those of you who have seen the amazing performance of Julia Jentsch in "Sophie Scholl - The Last Days" it will come as a surprise, if not a shock, to see Ms. Jentsch play a character exactly opposite to the one which brought her such fame -- a true blue Nazi! But that's what great actors are made of -- anti-Nazi heroine this year, Nazi lover of the main protagonist the next. She learned some Czech for this role, but when she speaks in German, the screen shows Czech subtitles. Some scenes are really priceless, as when Dite is escorted out of his hotel (presumably in 1948), by two members of the Communist people's militia who at first are inclined to allow him to stay on as administrator of his now nationalized enterprise, but when he keeps insisting he is a millionaire and needs to be arrested, they willingly oblige. Irony stays with us through the film, starting with the opening scene when the elder Dite is released from a Communist jail in Prague and he explains: "I was sentenced to 15 years (for being a millionaire), but because of the amnesty, I only had to sit for 14 and 3/4."
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9/10
The more inglorious struggles of the insignificant and friendless to survive deserves our respect, not an easy and priggish contempt.
philipdavies7 August 2008
Menzel, faithful to Hrabal, shows the Fall of Czech Man - and Sudeten German Woman - and their expulsion from their respective Middle-European idylls: They tragically fall into each other's arms just as global issue is joined that soon disillusions our Romeo and destroys his (now unfortunately rampantly Nazi) Juliet.

Neither the quiet life of getting rich and enjoying all the pleasures money can bring, nor the stirring Wagnerian strains of Germanic supremacist idealism, can survive, but our opportunistic anti-hero, Ditie (a name which can translate as 'little man') is more adaptable, because his ideals are more pliant to the accidents of fate than his German wife's rigid Hitlerite fanaticism, and consequently he is eventually able to emerge from a sort of Communist Purgatory with a keen appreciation of life's real and much simpler necessities.

With profound irony, it is in a smashed and ethnically cleansed Sudeten German village that an older and a wiser Ditie's rehabilitation is completed. And it is from this sobering perspective that he can finally both regret the excesses and errors of his life, and yet also take nostalgic pleasure from what was, after all, the wonderful, glittering, profoundly human spectacle of folly and grandeur which his life has been! Far from tragic or depressing, therefore, this film of the 20th century debacle of a nation ruined remarkably concludes with a very Czech endorsement of the simple, inoffensive pleasure in life which will always console this patient people at the troubled heart of darkest Europe: Ditie allows himself to enjoy a tankard of Pilsener beer - and Menzel's camera seems to gild the moment with as much gloriously sensuous golden dreaminess and spiritual fulfillment as ever bloated millionaire or romantically excessive idealist knew.

At last, the little man has found his fulfillment where it always lay: in the little things. At last, old, disillusioned and unseduced any longer by the world's headier attractions, Ditie finds himself at home and happy.

Here, the film seems to be saying, is the real idyll to which the Czech person should retire for refreshment of the soul, and not those false - though fabulous - ones we have been forced to discard.

Just as Ditie observes that his own career of accidents always turned out well, so in this perspective the Czech experience seems, on the whole, to have turned out for the best. This optimistic fatalism seems typical of the Czech way of seeing things, and is as characteristic of this film of Menzel's old age as it was of his early masterpiece, 'Closely observed trains.' On this view, it would be churlish to condemn the film for self-indulgence, as many Western critics have done. Frankly, they haven't suffered so much, so what do they know of ethical conundrums and the moral paradoxes of survival? This meditation on the more inglorious struggles of the insignificant and friendless to survive deserves our respect, not an easy and priggish contempt. This must especially be true in the country which lies behind the heavily loaded title 'I served the King of England,' for this heavy hint must surely prick that particular national conscience with its role in one of history's most blatant acts of betrayal. The title practically dares any English commentator to judge Ditie in his historical predicament!

(There is also considerable satisfaction to be had by the viewer from the sheer technical finesse of the film's production, on every level. Jiri Menzel's craft is also hugely impressive in scene after scene, which are turned with complete mastery of tragi-comic effect. But this is a study for another occasion.)
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7/10
"Visually beautiful and adventurous story..."
Sindre Kaspersen6 February 2012
Czechoslovakian screenwriter, actor and director Jirí Menzel's sixteenth feature film is an adaptation of a novel from 1971 by Czech author and frequent collaborator of the director Bohumil Hrabal (1914-1997) which was shot on various locations in the Czech Republic and written by Jirí Menzel. It tells the story about Jan Díte, an old retired man who reminiscences the time when he as an ambitious young man encountered a successful business man who inspired him to become a millionaire and the time when he began working as a waiter at a high standard hotel in Prague for Skrivanek, the headwaiter who once served the king of England.

This brilliantly directed Czech, German, Hungarian and Slovakian co-production by Czech New Wave director Jirí Menzel, a character-driven journey through a cheerful and ambitious man's eventful life, depicts a multifaceted study of character about a very determined, articulate and good-hearted man who has numerous relationships with various women on his way towards fulfilling his dream. Shifting from past to present with an efficient narrative structure, this well-paced, imaginatively written and humorous drama, which functions well both as a period piece and a social-satire, creates a visually beautiful and adventurous story about life, destiny, dreams and love.

This moving comedy which Jirí Menzel got to direct after waiting ten years for the settlement over a rights dispute, is finely photographed by Czech cinematographer Jaromír Sofr, has some notable production design and some wonderful acting performances by Czech actor Ivan Barnev and German actress Julia Jentsch in a role which is significantly contrary from the one she played in German director Marc Rothemund's "Sophie Scholl-The Final Days" (2005). A romantic, charming and life-affirming film which gained, among other awards, the FIPRESCI Prize and was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 57th Berlin International Film Festival in 2007.
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8/10
farce
morganl-628 February 2009
this is a farce in part, but i do wonder why there's the great American need to qualify this movie. so one will know the correct response, perhaps? aw, just sit back and be enlightened. if more folks had laughed at the Nazis they wouldn't have made it into power. and as for the woman being portrayed as lesser than the man, this is called history, folks. the movie is charming. barney is a mime's delight. and the sex is delicious, and certainly not raunchy as one reviewer on the DVD writes. i always find it stimulating to have to curb my love of MTV editing and car chases and to let the different pace of the European style wash over me. ah tempora, ah mores.
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9/10
A witty, offbeat and gentle satire from the director, 40 years ago, of Closely Watched Trains
Terrell-430 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
When we first see Jan Dite he is an older man being released from a Czech communist prison. In a bit of gentle humor we learn how fortunate he is. An amnesty has set him free, after he only served 14 years and seven months of a 15-year sentence. His crime? That and other things we'll learn in this picaresque, softly ironic, slightly sarcastic comedy of Nazis and Communists, of getting along and of knowing when to move on. I Served the King of England is a marvelous movie by Jiri Menzel, the Czech director who gave us Closely Watched Trains 40 years earlier. While elements of the plot are discussed, there aren't any serious spoilers.

Jan Dite is a young man with all the innocence and practical self-interest of a hungry puppy. He is played by Ivan Barney, short, slim, with blond hair, blue eyes, and a face that, one person said, resembles a mix of, when young, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Roman Polanski and Derek Jacobi. One thing for sure, he's a fine actor. We meet the young man while he's selling sausages at a Czechoslovakia train station in the Thirties. Already he has developed techniques to increase his profit, but he's so earnest, so shy and sly, and so open about it all that we can't help encouraging him. When he realizes even the wealthy will get down on their knees to scrabble after a few coins, he knows he can do just as well as they do. His determination to be a millionaire takes hold. In his climb to success we're with him as he becomes a drinks server and table cleaner in a beer hall, a young man of all duties in a plush resort hotel for the very rich, and a waiter in the dining room of the Hotel Paris, the most beautiful hotel in Prague. Along the way we track his encounters with the arrogant, the wealthy, the helpful and a number of gorgeous prostitutes who service the elderly men who have money. There are voluptuous meals that include oysters, small birds, snails and naked girls, and Jan serves them all. He develops a talent for gracefully dancing around tables holding trays filled with full plates high above his head...and for decorating the naked tummies of lovely women with flowers, or currency, or even the left-over delicacies of a dinner. Roasted pineapple rings were never put to better use.

Then the director takes Jan and us into Hitler's takeover of Czechoslovakia, a marriage to a Sudeten lass who is so dedicated to the cause she gazes passionately at a photo of Hitler while poor Jan tries mightily to help make a baby. We visit Jan at work during the war, a wonderful vacation spot run by Himmler where naked Aryan young ladies gambol in the nude, waiting for scientifically selected studly soldiers to impregnate them so that there will be more perfect little blond babies for the Reich. The place soon will be used as a rehabilitation center for soldiers back from the Eastern front with missing limbs. Jan is there, serving and watching them all.

But thanks to many valuable stamps taken from the empty homes of Polish Jews by his wife, who left to serve at the front, eventually Jan has his dream come true...he becomes a millionaire after the war, and one who, no less, now owns the Hotel Paris. Jan's basic innocence doesn't prepare him for Communism. At least Jan succeeds in one thing, achieving the company of other millionaires.

I Served the King of England is satire, but gently served and with an appealing person in the young Jan Dite (and Dite means "child" in Czech), Picaresque it is, with imaginings of fast footwork, delighted sex, unexpected adventures, innocent opportunism and a funny and delightful score. Much like Closely Watched Trains, there are times when the reality of some of the situations is not amusing. I Served the King of England is that rare movie, a thing to thorough enjoy, with some deftly planted barbs so sharp you scarcely feel them.

For something akin to the spirit of the music score, not exactly but with that love for old- style swing, go to YouTube, type in Ondrej Havelka and then click to play the video short "Me To Tady Nebavi." Havelka is a contemporary band leader and singer (and tap dancer) who recreates Czech swing using the appearance of old fashioned style film clips. Bring your love for the offbeat with you.
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9/10
Czech movies for the tone deaf
vainoni29 May 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This is a visually lush, well-acted and extremely well-crafted movie about a little man caught in a vast political machine. Like Hasek's Svejk, Hrabal's Dite meanders through war and politics like a kitten in a minefield, and miraculously escapes to tell the tale.

Much has been made (by some reviewers) of the supposed sexism and sympathy for Nazis in this movie. I say "supposed" because neither is actually present; "I Served the King of England" is told in a highly satirical vein, and the deadpan delivery of Oldrich Kaiser's narration as old Dite serves both to condemn what's being shown on screen and make it vaguely humorous and farcical. Dite ignores politics, as much as possible (and as so many Czechs tried to do during the second World War).

To draw a comparison which may or may not be apt, Dite's story reminds me of that of Max Lorenz, an opera singer and Hitler's favorite tenor. Post-WWII he was condemned as a Nazi tenor in many circles; the war tainted his name. But Max Lorenz was homosexual, married to a Jew, and he protected his wife's family from the SS! Dite may have married a Nazi sympathizer, and worked for Nazis, but he shows none of the coldness of an SS serviceman: the scene where he runs after the train heading to the concentration camp holding out a sandwich to the detainees is heartbreaking. And his release of the stamps his wife stole from "deported" Jews speaks strongly to the change that has been wrought in him by the movie's end. Old Jan Dite is no longer politically ignorant or out for himself. He works hard to create a new place for himself, and when the movie ends we know that his work is far from over.

As for the objectification of women: it is absolutely present in this movie, but just because it's on the screen doesn't mean the director approves of it. (I'm a woman, and believe you me, the sex scenes and prostitutes could have been handled *far* more gratuitously.) The satirical element of the film extends into the realm of sexism as well. Throughout both the film and the novel, different groups of people (women, Jews, and yes, Czechs and even Germans) are treated as less than human by another group. This is not right--Menzel agrees, and hammers his point home with images of objectified women, arrested Czech nationalists and abused German teachers. And (perhaps more to the point) all the depictions of women in the film are also in Hrabal's original novel.

This is not an uproariously funny movie, nor is it a heartrendingly dramatic movie. It is, instead, a tone poem: a meditation on life, desire, hope, war, and human nature that doesn't shy away from some of the biggest mistakes and problems in human history. Menzel's light touch and aesthetic eye make it easily watchable, but the murky, dangerous elements of the film lie beneath its pretty surface. As an introduction to Czech cinema, it might not be ideal, but for those who are familiar with Menzel's tone shifts, it is a masterpiece.
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10/10
only Czechs can make a film like this
wvisser-leusden24 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
it's hard to write a review about this film without using spoilers. I won't do so, though, for I feel it would be more or less criminal to diminish your enjoyment by giving away its storyline prematurely.

'I served the King of England' is a Czech film, produced in a way only residents of this middle-European country can do. Its refined tongue-in-cheek-humor is pushed to the extreme all through. Fully embedded in a coherent plot with many unexpected twists and other surprises. Marvellously evoking the spirit of its times. With good acting and competent shooting.

However, 'Obsluhoval jsem anglickeho krale' (= its original Czech title) may be too subtle for American taste. And a little historical knowledge about former Czechoslovakia comes in handy as well.

Whatever, there can be no doubt that producer Jiri Menzel left us with a great film. In a true middle/East European style its pace isn't too fast, allowing you every opportunity to enjoy.
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7/10
"I see nothing, I hear nothing"
Red-12512 May 2008
Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (2006), written and directed by Jirí Menzel, is a Czech film shown in the U.S. with the title, "I Served the King of England." Menzel directed "Closely Watched Trains," one of the great movies of the 1960's.

Using flash forwards and flash backs, we follow the life of Jan Díte, played as a young man by Ivan Barnev, and as an older man by Oldrich Kaiser. Díte is obsessed with becoming a millionaire, and the younger Díte manages to accomplish this goal by his total unconcern for the plight of his country and his fellow Czechs.

When the Germans invade Sudetenland, and then the rest of Czechoslovakia, Díte takes it all in stride, calmly embracing--figuratively--the Nazi invaders and--literally--a lovely young Nazi woman. I think we are supposed to perceive him as naive and innocent, but my interpretation is that he is willfully ignorant and basically uncaring. My mother always said, "There are none so blind as those who will not see." That quote perfectly fits Díte's character.

The film has some comic moments, and the views of Prague are lovely. The movie is worth watching if the opportunity arises, but not worth strenuously seeking out. We saw it at the Rochester High Falls International Film Festival. It will work well on DVD.
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8/10
Teaching cynicism or how-growing-old?
didierfort16 November 2009
Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (Jiří Menzel, 2006, 2h00) is very hard a movie to write on. Obviously, Bohumil Hrabal squares things up with Czech history or nationalism. His main character, brilliantly set up by Jiří Menzel (let's remember "Trains closely watched" and "The Aventures of private Ivan Tchonkin") is a sort of naive though ambitious petty crook, almost reaching his aim transformed into an ideal (becoming a millionaire) until History catch him back, after February 1948.

An older man, though not broken, is opening the movie : Jan is freed after serving 15 years ("which, thanks to amnesty, became 14 years and 9 months") in state prison. We follow older Jan Dite in Sudentenland, now a desert since Germans were expelled after WWII. He remembers his rise - mainly through women, generally whores, caring with him because his charm et his sweetness and invention in bed. This is the center of numerous flash-backs making the bigger part of the film. Nothing wrong to say about musical score, special effects (delicate and charming), casting (all women are beautiful), acting, filming and editing. Everything works, no flaws.

The problem, if there is a problem, lies in the hero and almost all of the characters he is mixed with : all are of a rather repulsively vulgar cynicism, which becomes the philosophy Jan uses to transform his first poor dream into an ideal. And those who are not of this kind are lead by nationalism - narrow minded (the Czechs) or hideous (the Nazi school-mistress Jan falls for). Oddly enough, the only one redeemed for us is the head waiter in Hotel Paris, who is Czech, righteous and courageous. Is it to tone down Hrabal's thesis?

So the whole story looks like an enormous bitter (and sophisticated) farce Menzel filmed on behalf of Hrabal's feelings.

Besides, there is still something in the movie, which make its vision not one-sided : a bitter-sweet taste given by the face of mature if not old men in front of women beauty, and the visible and overwhelming nostalgia this beauty vivify in their mind. They remember, and they smile... Isn't it there some kind of a sketch, the sketch of a how-to-grow-old handbook?
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10/10
It's been worth the wait!
rozklad8 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
We had to wait decades for Jiří Menzel's realisation of Hrabal's fantastic novel – one of my all-time favourite books. Menzel has lost none of his joy, sensuality and lust for life, and the result is a film brimming with invention.

The book is the story of Jan Dítě, a smart but rather unsympathetic character whose "only aim in life is to be a millionaire", and his fortunes and misfortunes as Czechoslovakia passes from prosperous (or even, as here, sybaritic) republic, through Nazi occupation into Communism; a kind of Pilgrim's Progress through to a unique emancipation (which Menzel, a little confusingly, intercuts throughout).

Indeed, Hrabal may have intended Dítě to be symbolic of his country as a whole: a small, new country (dítě=child), downtrodden but rather cocky to begin, rapidly gaining in wealth and stature until cruelly divided on Nazi occupation between active resistance and passive collaboration; ambitious immediately after the war until crushed again, this time almost willingly, by Communism, then finally achieving a kind of nemesis in spite of itself. This may unduly romanticise the Communist régime, but I find Hrabal is a little guilty of this, despite being ironically critical elsewhere; perhaps he had to be. (I am English so forgive me if I have got this all wrong). Even so, his book (like others before) was rejected by the authorities in 1975 and remained unpublished for many years. Even the title was ironic: Dítě, of course, serves the Emperor of Ethiopia, not the King of England, who had been served by the head waiter of the Hotel Paříž. As Dítě observes, this honour did him no good when he was taken away by the Nazis — just as Czechoslovakia was expediently shafted at Munich in 1938 by her English "allies".

***Minor spoiler in next paragraph***

Menzel's portrayal of the young Dítě is a little Chaplinesque, perhaps to enable the viewer to identify more readily with a character who, in Hrabal's hands, is less ambiguous and sympathetic. He also possibly overplays the slapstick a little, though again this may be his way of presenting Hrabal's wonderful storytelling, the condensing of which into under 2 hours of film is a true feat. But the film is such a joy to watch, from the droll introduction (which, incidentally, does not come from the book, in which Dítě only gets 2 years in prison), through the horrors and ambiguities of war, to the paradisiacal ending, that all minor quibbles are forgiven.

The two actors playing Dítě are superb, the set pieces perfectly choreographed, the sense of history in progress impeccable. And it's fun. Fans of the sublime "Closely Observed Trains" and "Postřižiny" (two earlier Hrabal/Menzel collaborations) will surely not be disappointed. Conversely, if you loved this film and desire more, I urge you to seek out these earlier masterpieces.

Here is Menzel with a big budget, and he's wonderful. It's been worth the wait.
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Curiously lighthearted and apathetic, but a subtle political film nonetheless
chaos-rampant27 September 2010
The connections to silent cinema are stronger than ever in Jiri Menzel's latest film, in the beginning we even get mock-silent footage and intertitles, gags and pratfalls, and the protagonist is a Buster Keaton figure, dexterous and athletic and unperturbed by the world around him gliding through life untouched as though in a dream. I don't want to say that I don't like it because the German invasion of Czechoslovakia is treated as casually and irreverently, there's even a time and place for making light of war, and to the extent that the film's protagonist, the naive waiter at an upscale hotel in Prague, is swayed to one side or the other by apathy, good fortune, and innocence, Menzel is saying something about Czechoslovakia's attitude towards the Nazi occupying force.

In a subtle way this is as much a political film as Closely Watched Trains. When Hitler's speech in the Reichstag announcing the impending invasion is played in the radio, our waiter promptly switches station to a light dance tune. But we're shown other Czechs too, who resisted in their own ways, like the Mait'r D' of the hotel (who Served the King of England) and his contempt towards German customers. Near the end a train of boxcars filled with people takes off and there's no mistake what the final stop for the people inside will be.

Also curious is to me is the sharp juxtaposition between the waiter when he comes out of prison 15 years later a lonely man with sunken cheeks, and his younger self, who feels like a star of silent cinema, a figment of fantasy, and never like a human being. Or maybe not even sharp but jarring, in the sense that I can't quite figure out how the man we see come out of prison emerged out of what he used to be.

You said something in your description about 'being delighted' with the film, and that's spot on on the reaction Menzel is trying to elicit, also probably why I didn't like it. 'Being delighted' by a film happens very rarely to me. I'm not wired that way and it's just not a part of how I watch movies or why, sad bitter bastard that I am. It probably explains why I'm not the biggest fan of satire, of which there is plenty here. Still I smiled in a few spots, so there might be hope for me.
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8/10
Recalls the greats of cinema past
Bob Taylor21 December 2008
I got a bit of a shock when I saw this film. It doesn't seem to follow the rules of contemporary film-making--in other words, women aren't shown as fully equal to men (although they can be very resourceful in dealing with petty tyranny) and the hero shows no sign of resentment for the way he is treated. I felt a lot closer to the great works of the heyday of classic film by Cukor, Ophuls and Lubitsch. The story unfolds calmly and logically, whether the events take place in the 30's, 40's or 50's of the last century. Ivan Barnev as the young Jan is superb: funny, roguish and balletic (just watch how gracefully he swoops around the restaurant with that heavy tray; wonder how much rehearsal time that needed.) Jiri Menzel made Closely Watched Trains, then saw his career go into eclipse after the Soviet invasion in 1968. The work he has done since hasn't come to my attention until now. This may be his swan-song, since he is 70 now, but I hope not.
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8/10
Fit for a king!
jotix10018 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Jan Dite, a resourceful waiter at a Prague restaurant, likes to play tricks on the wealthy patrons of the establishment where he starts his career by throwing coins on the floor. It never fails, even the richest men cannot pass the occasion of getting down to pick up a coin, something that fills Dite's soul with contentment. Jan Dite also starts his own sentimental education at the hand of a beautiful blond who sends the older gentlemen in the restaurant to a state of bliss. But the only one that really gets to her heart, and her bed is Jan.

The picaresque ascent and downfall of Jan Dite is told in flashbacks by the older Dite, who at the beginning of the story is released from jail for something that is not revealed until almost the end. Jan goes from Prague into a country hotel where the privileged rich love to go to be secluded with attractive young women. In a delicious sequence Jan Dite comes upon what really goes on in a private room upstairs where a lovely young lady rotates on a 'lazy Susan' kind of device while the men around the table have great views of her. Even this woman seem to prefer Jan to most of the old goats that can really pay for her.

The next adventure involving young Dite involves his stay at one of the most beautiful restaurants in all of Prage, the great Paris Hotel, where the art of food is the most refined in the city. There Jan makes the acquaintance of the head waiter, Skrivanek, a suave and debonair man who can speak several languages and who takes a liking for the young Dite. His waiters love to perform a sort of balletic dance around the restaurant where they balance the many platters on their tray. One waiter in particular, resents Jan Dite, who gets his revenge when he makes his rival trip causing him to go into a melt down of huge proportions.

One of Jan's best achievements was his role during the dinner the Emperor of Ethiopia offers at the hotel. Being a short man, the monarch wants to offer a medal to one of the staff, but not being tall, he bestows the sash with the jewel to Dite, who treasures it forever. His big love comes in the way of Liza, a German woman who arrives in the country after part of it is taken over by Germany. The Nazis are seen arriving all over town. Some Czech youths begin beating Germans, but Jan's intervention gains her admiration that will turn into love. The only problem is the question of whether Jan Dite's blood is fit to blend with Liza's who is pure Aryan.

It is not too long before the invading Germans are all over the place. Jan Dite's sees his older friend and mentor being sent away to a death camp, but he is helpless to do much. The old man had suggested to put his money into stamps because he feels the money will be useless. Jan, not heeding the advice ends up with nothing, until Liza returns from the war loaded with stamps, which are sold in order for Dite to buy the old Paris hotel, but alas, his happiness is short lived because the Communists take over. The hotel goes to the state and they send Jan Dite to prison for having paid 15 million for the establishment that merits him fifteen years away.

This wonderful film by Jiri Menzel, a director much admired for his earlier projects, is a satire about life before WWII and its aftermath. The most interesting aspect of the story involves the young Jan because of the great possibilities Mr. Menzel saw in the ascent of the entrepreneurial Dite, whereas the latter part with the older Jan only serves to recall parts of his interesting life. The director had actually worked with novelist Bohumil Hrabal, but his take on the book shows a director at the top of his craft as a creator. The irony of the story is that after the country is invaded by the Germans, the people become slaves by the Communist regime that will last more than forty years by the hardliners that took over.

The best thing in this film is the wonderful Bulgarian actor Ivan Barnev, who steals the picture. He is one of the most remarkable actors working in Eastern Europe today. It is a joy to watch this man work. He is never obnoxious. In addition, he possesses one of the most expressive faces that works great in the film. Oldrich Kaiser, is seen as the older Dite. He too, bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Barnev, but alas, his role is not as important in the context of the film. Julia Jentsch, a German actress, plays the role of Liza, who becomes Dite's love. Martin Huba, another distinguished actor is marvelous as the head waiter Skrivanek. The supporting cast includes Hungarian director Istvan Szabo, in a cameo.

The film is a triumph for Jiri Menzel, who was blessed with the magic performance of Ivan Barnev in an unforgettable film that will live forever.
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a travel
Armand27 April 2013
a travel with many dimensions. short history of Central Europe in XX century, charming trip across the life of a little man and his dreams, ironic, sarcastic, testimony and word of Ecclesiast, it is charming and seductive. and that is not a surprise. a great director and a nice novel are basis of expected success. but this success is, in fact, result of spices. melancholia, regrets, innocence as instrument to resist against gray world, humor as perfect option to describe a kind of Forrest Gump and his steps. for viewer from East Europe , it is a support for not forgive the past traces. for the others, it can be a comedy or a salt-sweet film. it is , like each film, only a window. and that is enough.
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very ambitious
scott-135-61406316 August 2011
I Served the King of England is very ambitious. It condenses an epic novel into two hours and squeezes in more styles than a catwalk. There are nods to the wit of Charlie Chaplin. The visual eulogies of Peter Greenaway. Penitentiaries, bars, brothels, woods, invading armies. All are collected in a dizzying montage as Jan Díte reviews the highs and lows of his life and loves in flashback.

He has just been released from Prague Correctional Facility, having served almost 15 years. He is also in rather humble circumstances. This seems to contrast with his lifelong and apparently successful ambition to become a millionaire. The first half of the film has a theatrical feel of unreality – much like a musical. Serving lad Díte manages to score with a local beauty at the nearby bordello. He then get various jobs that involve him working with sophisticated women of pleasure, or in top hotels, or sometimes both together. His short stature enables him to play many tricks, like surreptitiously throwing a handful of coins on the ground for the pleasure of watching rich men get down on their hands and knees with their bums in the air. One of his favourite penchants with the ladies, on the other hand, is to ornament their naked and prostrate forms with anything from flowers, to fruit, to funds from his growing pocket book. One particularly striking moment is when he decorates a naked brothel girl (who looks worryingly like Kylie Minogue) in large margarita daisies. The scene is as arresting as the nude-and- rose-petals shot in American Beauty, or the female-served-for-dinner in The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover.

Menzel's taste for a decadent protagonist is in no way sullied by shame. His whores are creatures of beauty: "The scent of raspberry trailed behind her. She stepped out in that silk dress, full of peonies, and bees hovered around her like a Turkish honey store." ('Bees' you will note, not 'flies'.) The description follows an incident where the lady in question pours raspberry grenadine over herself - to stop Díte from getting into trouble.
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6/10
Interesting movie
Ignor13 January 2007
The long-awaited film (there were 10 years of legal disputes who has the filming rights) arrived. First of all, I feel the movie will not be as popular as "Postriziny" (AKA Short Cut) as Menzel decided to show also the bad parts on the Czech(oslovak)s. Yet it might be more appealing to non-European viewers. The rating will also depend on whether the viewers have red the Hrabal's novel or not and whether they were (dis)satisfied with the novel-movie link made.

The choice of the characters is really good (note some similarity in appearance of the actresses; the resemblance of actresses really documents Menzel's poetics) and the movie starts quite well. However, the first half is much better than the second one. In about two-thirds the director should move towards the message of the movie yet this part and the message delivery seems to be the most problematic. Sharp cut (or Short Cut?) could help to eliminate several slightly lengthy passages at this stage. The shift of the character is believable yet the movie can be misguiding in the CAUSE of the character shift (compared with the novel).
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7/10
Nice visuals but too many portions of fruit and veg
philipsmith227 August 2007
A solidly made film with some good performances, especially from Martin Huba as Skrivanek, the maitre d'. The film seems to linger too much on some of its set-pieces, usually involving naked women either bedecked with an assortment of fruit and flowers or being leered at by rich old duffers. This criticism might be a bit harsh as the sumptuous visuals are integral to the film but I did feel the pace slowing down a bit.

The director, Jiri Menzel, is famous for another Hrabal adaptation, 'Closely Observed Trains' and may have been regarded as a safe pair of hands for this job. However, I do wonder whether a younger director would have made more of the adventurous weaving together of episodes in the book. That said, the film does have a real feel for the flavour and atmosphere of the book. The cast are particularly well chosen and there are some wonderfully characterful faces cropping up.

In short, a pleasant experience but shouldn't garner any awards outside the Czech Republic.
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Glossy amusement
thecatcanwait16 November 2011
Watched this off one of the freebie sites. Initially thrilled to have found what seemed like an engaging quality foreign film. But come the 2nd half the shiny show-offishness starts to wear a bit thin.

Apparently, one of the biggest budget Czech films ever made, its got a Hollywood style razzmatazz dazzle about it; all lavishly set and costumed, glamorous locations, audacious production values, It gets to feel like a musical minus the songs; lots of choreographed set-pieces and sequences: a waiter drops a plate – and every head in the restaurant turns (for example) I'm not used to – or actually like that much – this sort of grandstanding farcical theatricality.

The intention is to satirise the decadent hedonism of 1920′s Czechoslovakia through to the communist 1950′s (decadent impulses continued, albeit hidden inside a socialist propaganda blanket) Menzel did another adaptation of a Bohumil Hrabal novel back in the 60′s, "Closely Observed Trains" (I've reviewed it here), and i liked the small scale small time quirkiness of that. This film feels a bit too big for its boots, too drowned out in its own excess to really bring off those minor moments of offbeat irony i seem to associate with Hrabal's absurdist take on the world (I've read some of his fiction)

Overall, it feels like a glossy entertainment, a self-conscious amusement. Dripping with naked ladies. Trying hard to be delightful.
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6/10
good-looking spookily sleazy ultimately pointless
Rob-O-Cop9 July 2008
Watching this with a Girlfriend might not be the best way to enjoy this movie. It all starts pretty well, delicious cinematography, nice period setting, funny characters etc. The First scene with naked women as sexual objects fulfilling the whims of older powerful men in a fantasy style comes and goes, yep, that's fine, a bit politically incorrect but we can handle that, but then the second and third and forth and so on scene of exactly the same over and over again, and you start to wonder who the hell made this movie, some old guy using it as an excuse to visualise his own private fantasy world of subservient naked women who act out his every whim, cos that's what it looked like. There wasn't a female character in this movie that wasn't a willing whore or a Nazi. After over an hour of this my viewing partner had to speak up and the rest of the movie was a tender hooks affair as I hoped we could get to the end of the movie and find the deep message buried within without to many more episodes to set woman's equality back 100 years, which of course wasn't going to happen, more elderly men with sex kitten women at their beckon call and we reach the end of the movie and have time to contemplate the meaning of it all,..... and there doesn't seem to be any great revelation.

Hey I like tits and ass sexy women as much as the next guy, but this movie had a really seedy feel to it. Maybe it's a cultural thing, I've obviously offended a bunch of people by daring to criticize the master work of a local talent but be fair, I'm not the only one who noted and had a problem with the objectification going on here.

The fact that this film was so masterfully made, beautifully shot, it implied something important, but at the end of it all it was difficult to weigh the misogyny against beauty. "Sexism masquerading as art"?

sorry to offend the directors fans but you know there's probably some truth in what I've said.
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8/10
They Know Best, Because They Were Really On the Spot
Harry Carasso5 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I already had had a hectic day when I watched J'AI SERVI LE ROI D'ANGLETERRE. I've heard of Czech movies, even saw most of the Milos Forman's, but this Menzel was my first. For reasons stated above, I dozed several times during the first half, which others consider as the best. Then I was caught in by the action, and enjoyed this very imaginative movie, and was even moved when the postage stamps were blown by the fire wind. However, I think there were a few flaws, such as the "coitum abruptus", but I'd rather yield on the subject, because I am sure the Czecks (and the Slovaks)know the subject better. I wonder if they are not in a rush to see the end of 2008, after what they got in 1938 (Sudeten crisis), 1948 (Communism) and 1968 (Soviet Tanks in Prague). I will certainly give this movie a second chance and even buy a DVD, if there is one existing. harry carasso, Paris, France
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1/10
Another horrible movie that wasted 2 hours of my life
Mustang9227 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I recorded this off the Starz channel, knowing nothing about this movie. The title seemed interesting, and Starz listed it as a comedy/romance. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a drama, with NO humor. No laughs, no chuckles, smiled maybe once the entire movie.

This is a drama, and a horrible one. Lame, lame story, with absolutely no point. Since this was based on a book, I have to assume the book has a point to it. This movie had none. Obviously, a director who doesn't know how to actually give a movie, a script, real direction.

The main character is somewhat of a simpleton, although he's not made out to be stupid. Towards the end of the movie, when the Nazi occupation kicks in, he's oblivious to what's going on, but where the hell is the direction here? What, dear director, are you trying to say about this Czech man? What are you trying to say about the Czech country? That they are all oblivious people? Or were? You're supposed to be telling a story here, but you don't tell the story. What you tell is literally pointless.

And then at the very end of the movie -- after plot holes in character motivations -- the main character convinces his Russian visitors he's a millionaire, ignoring that they just said all millionaires are going to jail. WHAT? WTF? So now, our main character does the dumbest thing in the entire movie. Yeah, that was motivated, alright!

Then we get stupid voice over once he's in prison, to say he is where he always wanted to be. BS. What a horrible horrible movie. I should have quit after the first hour, realizing there was no way this could possibly improve. A foreign director with a penchant for indulgence with no point.

Minor issue in this mess, but they start the movie with the main character getting out of prison, who looks to be 55 years old. But in flashback, before prison, he looks to be 28, 30. That's at least a 25 year visible difference, not 15. Brilliant casting, director & producers. RULE 1 in casting: Make it believable. You failed here. You failed entirely with this terrible movie, with no point to it. If the book was any good, you all adapted it horribly.

Shame on Starz for listing this as a comedy. It should have been listed as sh*t.
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