Published Sep 18, 2008Condensing a great deal of Czech history and viewing it from a darkly comic and satirical angle via a protagonist with a simplistic moral code and a "go-with-the-flow attitude, I Served the King of England is certainly ambitious in scope, offering both whimsy and didactics while criticizing sumptuous society and dominant political belief systems. But it ultimately succumbs to being merely a beautiful semi-failure. It is, however, a memorable and often entertaining semi-failure with copious amounts of nudity for simpler folks.
This historical serio-comedy follows Jan Dite (Ivan Barnev/Oldrich Kaiser), a man who finds amusement in throwing loose change on the floor to watch people scamper for it, after he is released from 15 years in prison. A series of flashbacks show Jan as a small but ambitious man during the 30s while he works his way up the ranks as a waiter for increasingly dignified Czech officials.
During WWII, Jan defends the honour of a young German teacher named Liza (Julia Jentsch) as she is harassed in the streets. While she is initially hesitant to spark up relations with a man who is not of pure blood, she gives in when she learns of German heritage within his lineage. Despite being shunned from Czech society when he takes up with a German woman, Jan finds himself in a position of power when Nazi forces occupy the territory.
Satirical looks at the rise and fall of Nazi occupation and the subsequent Communist revolution are consistently interesting and delivered with a sassy, irreverent humour that makes the entire film feel like an inappropriate and almost scandalous treat. This is only heightened by the many brothels throughout and champagne glasses filled with the ejaculate of purebred German soldiers.
Later insights on human nature and the human ability to see glory in oneself and fallibility in others prove touching but slightly incongruous with a tonality that simply takes on too much. I Served the King of England is recommended with the caveat that it contains mild misogyny and inherent flaws. (Mongrel Media)