Oh my gosh, enough with the Nazis already.
“I Served the King of England” is a bizarre little movie, a comical romp that turns into a nightmare and tries to emerge sadder, wiser, more human. I’m not sure it succeeds.
Ivan Barnev plays a Jan Dite, a waiter with one goal in life – to become a millionaire. His ambition leads him from one job to the next, up the social ladder until he’s lead waiter and a very fancy hotel in Prague. Then the Nazis take over Czechoslovakia, and suddenly the definition of success changes from millionaire to master race, and Barnev embraces the change without a blink. He gets checked out by a German doctor before marrying a blonde soldier, to make sure his seed is worthy to impregnate an Aryan womb. Yikes. (After that, it just gets weirder.)
Barnev has a wonderful gift for physical comedy, making the movie feel Chaplin-esque at times. The movie’s main flaw is that it is directed by a dirty old man — 70 year old Jiri Menzel uses his camera to leer at every attractive woman on the set, and you can pretty much mark time in the movie by the spaces between when a female character is introduced and when she undressed.
I was afraid “I Served the King of England” was going to be another entryinto the Nazi Rehabilitation Project, but the real point is that neutrality is no excuse. Dite is blinded by his ambition to the monstrosity of the things going on around him (and the monster he marries) but it’s clear as day to us, the viewers – and to an older, sadder Dite, who narrates the movie as he lusts after his next door neighbor.
“I Served the King of England” has plenty of charm but it’s hard to accept the whimsy, the sex, and sobering morality all in the same pill. This one has seams, and borders on the seamy.