In this whimsical, rather fey movie in a setting that's both shabby (the town) and grand (the landscape), two couples who trade places and two older men who bother the shy main character wander in and out of scenes in a hotel perched on a mountain and topped by a pointed weather tower. There are dreamy, breathtaking panoramic views of sky, clouds, and the town of Liberic below. Up in that tower, Fleischman (Marek Taclík) practices the art of meteorology and shies away from girls. He knows exactly when it's going to rain -- which is pretty often.
Fleishman's bugged by the sex-obsessed hotel manager, Jegr (Jaromír Dulava), and carries out occasional paid "operations" for "Mr." Franz (Ladislav Mrkvicka), a man who claims he was a Luftwaffe pilot. An old dilemma comes up: should one travel or stay at home? Fleishman's putting together a makeshift hot air balloon to escape his unpromising life. Marek Taclík has a rumpled appeal, but only comes to life in the final minutes when hotel maid Ilja (Klára Issová), who's ditched her irritating waiter boyfriend Patka (Jaroslav Plesl), persuades Fleishman to kiss her. Platka pairs off with another lovely housekeeper, Zuzana (Dita Zábranská), who was sweet on Fleishman, and Mr. Franz's ashes have been scattered over Liberic. The skinny Platka, a slick Steve Buscemi type, claims to have lived a year in the US and is constantly using English phrases. He sells an all-purpose bottled liquid called "Happy Life." Nobody's buying.
Ondricek's previous films have done well at Czech and other Europlean film festivals. This occasionally funny, sometimes poetic work may be his grandest, dreamiest, most beautiful feature yet, and it has a certain winsome charm, not to mention the memorable sky- and land-scape images and the glimpses of the unique Hotel Jetèd. The use of sound and original music is as fresh and beautiful as the panoramic images. But all this doesn't ever meld into a satisfying emotional or intellectual package, mainly because the action is too desultory.
Characters are emblematic and each thinly conceals some sort of philosophical message. The two older men -- the manager and the fake veteran -- are self-assertive bores. The two couples are sad sacks; a winning moment is when, sitting together in the dining room, they all tell each other they're "sorry." Everybody is acting their heads off most of the time, which is rather fun. As Jason Pirodsky says in an excellent review on the Czech website Expatz, "David Ondricek's Grandhotel is an odd bird of a film; satisfying neither as comedy or drama, yet moderately interesting and mildly affecting throughout." It consists of a series of vignettes and "almost isn't there. Almost nothing happens, nor do we expect much to happen only a director like Ozu, I imagine, would be able successfully to unearth the subtle profundities hidden in a film like this. But this isn't the work of Ozu."
Part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007.
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