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With: Ivan Barnev, Oldrich Kaiser, Julia Jentsch, Martin Huba, Marián Labuda
Written by: Jiri Menzel
Directed by: Jiri Menzel
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Czech with English subtitles
Running Time: 120
Date: 03/18/2013

I Served the King of England (2008)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Serve' Ball

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: During the "Czech New Wave" of the 1960s, Jiri Menzel made two delightful comedies, Closely Watched Trains (1966) and Capricious Summer (1968), that flowed with a light, breezy pace but also subtly slipped in a hidden significance that enchanted critics; Closely Watched Trains even won an Oscar. Watching the first hour of his new film I Served the King of England (his first feature since 1994), I was convinced it was the work of a master. In flashback, a diminutive young man, Jan Dite (Ivan Barnev), works as a waiter and in a hotel, dreaming of making his fortune. He loves to throw loose change on the ground and watch as even the wealthiest people scramble to pick it up. He takes advantage when fate lends him a hand, and manages to sleep with beautiful women on top of it all. The story moves with such sublime grace that it brings Lubitsch to mind. But then Menzel lets WWII, Hitler and the Nazis slip into his story, and the film begins to bog down under the importance of it all. By the time it crosses the finish line the film has nearly stopped dead. Lubitsch himself managed to make a snappy Hitler-era comedy with To Be or Not to Be (1942), but Menzel can't come even close to duplicating that feat, or to recapturing his previous magic. (It's closer to Benigni than to Lubitsch.) Oldrich Kaiser plays the older Jan Dite, and Julia Jentsch (Sophie Scholl) co-stars.

Jiri Menzel won the festival's directing award back in 1990 (when it was known as the Akira Kurosawa award).

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