Friday, October 10, 2008

I Served the King of England

“It was my luck to run into bad luck.”

The story follows the remembrances of Jan Dite (Oldrich Kaiser) who, recently released in prison after almost 15 years, begins a new life and thinks back of the experiences of his younger self (Ivan Barnev).

We follow the young waiter’s experiences as he works himself up the ladder at various restaurants and hotels over the years. Dite’s slow rise takes some unexpected, and often humorous, turns over the years.

His emotional journey also takes him through the arms (and out of the beds) of beautiful women before falling hopelessly in love with a card carrying Nazi (Julia Jentsch).

I Served the King of England is about many things, and about nothing. Writer/director Jiri Menzel gives us a winding tale about the finicky nature of life, money, love, regret, and politics. The film is at its best when it mixes its sly humor with a deep melancholy in moments when reality hits Dite’s dreams right in the face (such as his understanding of Liza’s fervor and duties to the Nazi party).

I’ll stop for a second to commend the entire cast. Barnev is terrifc and carries this oddball role with a grace that is mystifying. Kaiser is well cast as the older Dite and from his eyes we glimpse both the humor and pain he has lived through. The women of the film are beautiful, and Jentsch is just about the sweetest little Nazi you’ve seen in the movies (even if she does stare at the painting of Hitler when she makes love to Dite). The film is also filled with good supporting roles, too many to list here.

The film has a look, feel, and energy which seems more in tune with the silent films of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton than to modern cinema of any genre. As such it comes off as fresh, different, a little odd, and unexpected.

Through the eyes of Dite, which the story is presented, everything takes on a sweet innocence, even Nazis! Filled with an excess of beautiful nude women the film never looses its inherent goodness nor becomes vulgar. In the eyes of Dite a beautiful woman isn’t a sex object as much as a piece of the divine.

In many ways the story feels like a story or fairy tale one might tell a small child before bedtime.

Dite’s childlike state is honestly confused by events which don’t fall into his dreams of owning his own hotel. The trouble and hostility he finds are baffling to him, even when he begins dating a Nazi. This creates bittersweet moments filled with an abundance of both joy and pain.

Dite’s life is a tragedy, but one which will make you laugh. Through the later scenes of his life we see his misadventures have not left him bitter. He’s lived his life and achieved his dreams if only for a few fleeting moments, how many of us can honesty saw we’ve accomplished that?

Throughout the course of the film Dite has the habit of taking his loose change and throwing it to the ground. Inevitably, no matter how far he has risen or the wealth of those he is serving, those around him begin scrounging around for a few loose coins. In this simple act you begin to understand the childlike wonder of Dite which may be slightly diminished by the tragedies of his life but never extinguished. A funny movie tinged with tragedy and loss, I Served the King of England is amusing, captivating, and thought provoking. You’ll likely have to hunt down local art houses to find this one or wait until the film makes its way to DVD, but it’s worth the effort.

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