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Thursday, August 21, 2008

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A veteran Czech filmmaker, Jiri Menzel created this unsettling story of a little man in pursuit of happiness in the unhappiest times. The man, portrayed by Ivan Barnev, is short, immoral, and a big opportunist. His dream of becoming a millionaire while serving others takes him from a Prague brothel to a Nazi breeding center, and from admiring his mentor in the best restaurant of the city, who “served the King of England” and therefore “knows everything” to marrying an Aryan soldier (Julia Jentsch) and ridiculing that mentor for being arrested by the occupants. The film’s profound irony might not be fully grasped by the American audience, since it takes a European soul, steeped in Europe’s WWII macabre history to fully appreciate the point of view of “the other side”—the side of a collaborationist. In an episode concerning his later years, the man brings home a mirror from a destroyed German village. The mirror owners were only too happy to give it away, saying that when they look into it, they can see the Germans. “There are no Germans in that mirror,” says the man at the end of the day. “Seeing myself in it is bad enough.” The film has a great cast and a beautiful cinematography, full of life and nuances. Opens August 29 at Embarcadero in SF, on September 5 at Shattuck in Berkeley, Los Gatos and San Rafael, and on Sept. 12 at Guild Theater in Menlo Park. For more information, visit


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