Monday, October 20, 2008

I Served the King of England (2006, Jiri Menzel)

Menzel’s first feature in over a decade is definitely an old man’s film, containing the rueful regret of a man who has been through a lot and made it out alive. The key to the film echoes what Citizen Kane’s pal Thatcher famously said- that anybody can make a lot of money, if all you do is to make a lot of money. So it is with the film’s protagonist Jean Dite (played by Ivan Barnev in his younger days, Oldrich Kaiser in later years), who by luck and sheer force of will works his way up the chain of luxury until he lucks into his own hotel. His eyes on the prize, he relies on others for education and inspiration when he needs them, only to bring them low once he’s lost any use for them. Of course, this story would seem to lend itself to a moralistic reading, in which we’re made to hate the money-grubbing louse. But instead, Menzel tells the story as a sharp-edged comedy, in which Dite is a childlike little fool who has little going for him BUT his ambition, which carries him through some difficult times. To this end, the film is aided immeasurably by Barnev, a fine loose-limbed physical comedian who so good at being comically pathetic that he’s impossible to hate. Lucky for him too, since Dite engages in some seriously shady behavior when the chips are down- for example, look at the way he eventually comes to raise the funds for his own hotel. Menzel’s light touch suits the story surprisingly well, but in the end it’s a bit too featherweight to really register much, although it’s entertaining enough while you’re watching that you won’t care. Also, there’s plenty of female nudity, which is almost always nice.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

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