Friday, March 11, 2011

The End of Old Times

Konec starych casu; Comedy, Czech Republic, 1989; D: Jiří Menzel, S: Josef Abrhám, Jaromír Hanzlík, Marián Labuda, Rudolf Hrusínský, Jan Hartl, Chantal Poullain

Servant and librarian Bernard Spera narrates how his former lord fled from the castle and settled in Tirol after changes in Czechoslovakia after World War I. The new National Assembly appointed the rich Stoklasa as the new administrator of the castle. He isn't a nobleman, but wants to buy the estate. In order to charm the local politicians, he organizes an opulent party and a hunt. However, one local lord refused to show up. Instead, a sleazy man claiming to be Duke Alexej shows up and stays at the castle. Stoklasa listens to every work he says, though numerous servants suspect the man is an impostor. After an argument, Alexej leaves while Charousek makes a deal with Stoklasa, enabling him to make a community in the castle.

Jiri Menzel's "The End of Old Times" is a gentle satire on appearance, upper class and the ever lasting human tendency to climb up on the latter of the social hierarchy, which still flows smoothly despite the fact that it is considerably weaker than his previous films. It's a mild comedy with sparse jokes, the most subtle appearing at the beginning (the opening text stating: "When ever a peasant puts on Aristocrat's clothes, he rips them.") and the ending of the film (the title of the film shows up - "The End of Old Times" - and then the latter part of the sentence disappears and the only text that remains is "The End"), whereas it simply lacks that elan and spark to give the overstretched story enough life. Josef Abrahm is too good for his own good as the sleazy slob "Duke Alexej" while the overweight Marian Labuda is, on the other hand, again sympathetic as the comic caricature Stoklasa. The movie doesn't grasp that "Czech charm" to the fullest, yet it has its moments, one of them in the scene where the lawyer finds the name of Duke Alexej's mother, but that still doesn't prove his Aristocratic blood ("She lived 300 years ago! If she gave birth to you when she was 100, you would still be 200 years old!" - "How do you know how old I am?").



Dwight said...

I'm sorry to see "The End of Old Times" only got a 'watchable' grade. I'm reading and enjoying the novel by Vladislav Vancura quite a bit, even though I know I'm missing a lot in translation to English. Thanks for posting on it!

Marin Mandir said...

I'm sorry, I didn't know you would be so upset about it. You know, when I watch a film, I try to be honest and simply say that I either like it or don't like it, but, obviously, I may rub some people the wrong way in the process. The best advice I can give you is that you should watch the film yourself and form your own opinion about it.

My opinion was that Jiri Menzel could have done a lot better than this, it was too thin of a story for a feature length film, or maybe I just had memories of his best comedies and thus this lesser one seemed more underwhelming than it actually was.