This movie is based on texts of Bohumil Hrabal, world-known Czech prosaic. It's a story (in a form of a mosaic of short episodes and pictures) about the sadness and happiness of inhabitants... See full summary »
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Middle-aged Antonin and his friends, the major, now retired, and the canon, are in the river, swimming and philosophizing. Then it starts to rain. It just seems to be that sort of summer. ... See full summary »
An opera troupe in a small town decides to perform Mozart's Don Giovanni. The view behind the scenes uncovers the world of opera without the glitter. A tale of love and disappointment, ... See full summary »
Czechoslovakia 1918. The newly formed National Assembly has made Stoklasa the administrator of the Kratochvile Castle. Although with no aristocratic background, he is a man of fortune and ... See full summary »
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
The more inglorious struggles of the insignificant and friendless to survive deserves our respect, not an easy and priggish contempt.
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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