(15) A refreshing cynicism pervades Czech director Jiri Menzel’s satirical black comedy. It is an approach that even succeeds in making palatable his diminutive hero Dite’s marriage to a Nazi sympathiser after having to prove his suitability to wed by conveniently discovering his own German background, and then having her gaze at a portrait of Hitler during their wedding night. Menzel, adapting Bohumil Hrabal’s novel, tells the story of the rise and fall of Dite (Ivan Barnev) from keen-to-succeed-at-any-cost waiter in 1930s Prague to hotelier, who ends up serving 15 years in prison after he is jailed by the Communists in post-war Czechoslovakia. Dite’s determination to make service, however servile, pay makes him a skilful waiter, adept at providing whatever services his wealthy guests ask for. It also enables him to survive the German occupation, continuing to work at a hotel which has been transformed into a breeding centre for perfect Aryans. Barnev gives a magnificently full-of-life, un-self-pitying quasi-comic performance that makes his character strangely endearing even at his most manipulative. While Menzel never makes the mistake of making Nazi excesses acceptable, his sardonic treatment — mocking the Nazis as acidly, if less boisterously than Mel Brooks did in The Producers — hits hard. Menzel’s portrait of Dite’s continuing resilience both celebrates his nation while at the same time making the essentially Czech satire accessible to cinema audiences everywhere.
Sunday 30 April 20174 Iyar 5777