Hugely enjoyable saga from veteran Czech director Jirí Menzel following a diminutive opportunist on his journey from 1930s bus boy and hedonist to millionaire hotelier and disgraced Nazi collaborator.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2007
Based on the best-selling book by Bohumil Hrabal, and winner of the Critics' Award at the Berlin Film Festival and pleasing crowds wherever it goes, this hugely entertaining saga from veteran Czech director Ji¡rí Menzel follows a diminutive train-station sausage seller over the course of four decades on his journey to bus boy and millionaire hotelier, before ending up as a disgraced Nazi collaborator. Jan Dít¡e – played with just the right note of cheeky innocence by Bulgarian actor Ivan Barnev – is an ambitious go-getter whose only wish in life is to become stinking rich. Landing a job at a luxurious Prague hotel in the 1930s, Dít¡e stealthily climbs the career ladder and happily indulges in the hedonism that surrounds him. This is a world where beautiful women gladly sprawl nude on a rotating centrepiece for the enjoyment of wealthy diners, and even though Dít¡e is technically still a servant, he enjoys his fair share of the spoils. As World War II approaches and the Germans occupy Czech lands, Dít¡e falls in love with Líza, a propaganda-spouting Nazi (Julia Jentsch, last seen doing just the opposite in Sophie Scholl) who only agrees to bed Dít¡e when she learns he has German blood. Scorned by his countrymen for marrying the enemy, Dít¡e is all but oblivious to the politics that surround him, even as he is hired to impregnate Teutonic goddesses in an Aryan breeding centre.
"With its visual humor (including inspired moments of slapstick), brilliant incorporation of music, and naive but likable pint-sized lead character, Menzel has created a decidedly Chaplinesque farce with a very modern flair... A sexy bit of satire... easily one of the cleverest and wittiest comedies to come out of Europe in recent years." — filmbrain.com