European comedies cover such a wide range that its much harder to narrow them down than it is here in the United States. Whereas we tend to skew towards blue humor, sight gags and foul language our cinematic friends on the other side of the Atlantic cover a much wider range of topics. Something is usually lost in translation, unfortunately, as many foreign films that are probably hilarious if you can understand the language tend to get skewered with subtitles or dubbing. American comedies are usually much more about interpersonal relationships and the shared shenanigans that embark upon the human experience. The European ones often times cover the human experience in general. I Served the King of England, from the Czech Republic, is about the shared experience of getting what you want in life and figuring out it may not be all that its cracked up to be.
“There are two types of tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want, the other is getting it” Yuri Orlov (Nic Cage), Lord of War (2005)
Jan (Ivan Barnev in his youth, Oldrich Kaiser as an old man) is a waiter at a restaurant who wants one thing: to be wealthy. Specifically he wants to be a millionaire, and given that the film takes place before World War II (with young Jan) a million dollars then would be a billion in todays cash. Working his way to a fancy hotel in Germany, before the Nazis, Jan sees his dream and ends up losing it all in the Communist takeover of then Czechoslovakia.
Were told the story from his perspective as an old man as the film is a bittersweet allegory about the fortunes (and misfortunes) we encounter in life. Its not necessarily getting what you want in life; sometimes its about losing it all. And thats what Jan the old man is dealing with; losing everything and coming back to rebuild a cottage with his bare hands to spend the rest of his days. I Served the King of England is about a man reflecting on his life, about the ups, downs and in-betweens of a rather unique life.
The problem is that a lot of the humor gets lots in translation. There are certain moments of tremendous hilarity that reach across the language barrier and others that dont. It makes for an interesting film, however, as its a unique take at the bittersweetness of life.
Presented in a Dolby Digital surround with a widescreen presentation, in its original Czech of course, the film has a great presentation. For an independent production from Europe it has a terrific transfer. This is a film that isnt excessively colorful save for a few moments, like long shots of the hotel, but what comes through is beautiful.
The films Theatrical Trailer, as well as an armful of Previews for other films, are included as well.
Like a true independent feature, this DVD has the film and some trailers on it and thats it. The film is good enough for the rental but not strong enough to recommend a purchase unless you saw the film in theatres and loved it.
Sony presents I Served the King of England. Written and Directed by Jiri Menzel. Starring Oldrich Kaiser, Ivan Barnev. Running time: 120 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: February 17, 2009. Available at Amazon.