Czechoslovakia, 1963. Jan Díte is released from prison after serving 15 years. He goes into semi exile in a deserted village near the German border. In flashbacks, he tells his story: he's a small, clever and quick-witted young man, stubbornly naïve, a vendor at a train station. Thanks to a patron, he becomes a waiter at upscale hotels and restaurants. We see him discover how the wealthy tick and how to please women. He strives to be a millionaire with his own hotel. Before the war, he meets Líza, a German woman in Prague. Is this his ticket to wealth or his undoing? Meanwhile, we see Jan putting a life together after prison: why was he sentenced, and who will he become?Written by
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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