Film Reviews


By • Aug 27th, 2008 •

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Taking a leaf from today’s news, Christian Gerhartsreiter (aka the bogus Mr. R) isn’t the only one fixated by delusions of grandeur. So is our anti-hero Jan Díte (literally-and aptly – “John Child”), the quintessential social-climbing A-List wannabe, in this delectable cross between black (but not bleak) comedy and political satire.

It has it all – pungent humor (oral and visual) and sex (mostly oral), as Díte, a very short Czech peasant with high hopes, pursues his lifelong goal: to be a millionaire. More specifically, to be a millionaire hotel owner. And here, think a 20th c. Candide obsessed with money, as he almost naively navigates the route to riches during the Nazi and Communist eras, pre-and-post WW2.

KING begins with the older Díte’s early release in the ’50s from a Prague prison (his 15-year sentence commuted by the Commies to 14 years 9 months through amnesty) and his relocation to an abandoned shack at the German border. Poor and alone, he fixes it up, then sits back to review his past life. (As he says, “It was always my luck to run into bad luck.”) What follows, via flashback, is a recap of the pursuit of his dream.

The young Díte may be provincial, but he’s a quick study. He notices everything – not only people’s reactions toward money, but especially the reactions of people who have lots of it. (It’s in-your-face examples of a nouveau riche candidate at work – Charlie Chaplin couldn’t have done a better job.)

As a waiter in elegant Art Deco Prague hotels, Dite aims to please, and picks up every classy nuance from their sophisticated maitre d’s, and from their clientele of international multimillionaires. He wants to be just like them. (And just so you’ll know, the film’s title has nothing to do with the story, but refers to a snobbish comment made by a head waiter to the impressionable parvenu-in-training.)

He also picks up a succession of beautiful hookers – he aims to please them too (that’s where the oral sex comes in), and marries one, Liza, an ardent German activist. (During the sex act, she pushes him aside to look at a portrait of Hitler.)

Though Díte is apolitical, when war breaks out, he finds himself working on the wrong side in a lab to produce Himmler’s idea of ideal Aryan stock, while Liza goes to the front to give the Nazis a hand as a volunteer nurse. When she returns, it’s not empty-handed, but with boxes full of a priceless stamp collection.

At last, with war booty worth million, he can fulfill his lifelong ambition: to build his own luxury hotel when the war is over.

Then again, maybe not.

And therein lies this tale, which has already won a slew of prizes in international competition. Deservedly so. Part slapstick, part social commentary, it’s one of the most titillating, scintillating films of any year, even if you have to wade through the subtitles. But that shouldn’t stop you from the pleasure of its company of actors and the extraordinary talent of its director.

It’s also the Czech Republic’s official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film. (If it wins, it’ll be a second statuette for director Jiri Menzel, who took home the award in 1966 for CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS.)

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