This Czechoslavakia 2008 Best Foreign Picture nominee brings much surreal and philosophical flair to the cinematic table, especially in terms of history and politics.
Lauded Czech helmer Jiri Menzel finds much capriciousness within a darkly droll, humanistic vision through his main character Jan Diti seen in his youthfulness, and as a sensitive, reflecting man (Ivan Barnev). The older Diti has made a transition after years of incarceration into a placid life in the mountains.
This stream-of-consciousness, fleet adaptation of a 1974 novel of the same title depicts the just-released Diti, recalling his upward mobility in waitering and becoming a man.
His dreaming of wealth (with notable scenes of flying coins and carpeted currency) as he advances his position as a lover and waiter has Jan working at the plush Hotel Paris near Prague. Serving the hoity-toity, high society Czechs, he's enamored by their self-indulgence and wants to be like them.
The prowess of his younger days is recalled by Diti, who eventually moves into the hotel business, learning of the necessary etiquette at a lavish Prague establishment. His success on his professional rise had incurred much jealousy, and when he's rewarded for his performance by an Emperor, it doesn't sit well with his colleagues.
The title (which is mentioned a few times, first heard from a Maitre 'd who seemed to always know what the elite diners should have) fits into Jan's great ambitions, leading to the deprecation of his humanity.
Notable backup, especially later on, comes from Julia Jentsch as German activist Liza who Jan will marry and who likes to make love while looking at a picture of Hitler. Diti unwittingly becomes part of those who'll change Czechoslavakia and has to emasculate himself to prove he is a fine Aryan specimen.
Eventually, in the flashback nature of the tale, Jan gets his due as a Nazi collaborator being a part of a research institute that creates a new Teutonic master race. Liza comes back from Poland as a volunteer nurse with quite a stamp collection, a "war booty" that would ensure them their own dream hotel after the war. Alas, a military hospital and air raid would change all that.
Menzel has made something memorably poignant and funny in this mirthful meditation with plenty of nubile women and a Chaplin-esque figure aglow when it comes to things like stamps and daisies.