In the end, "I Served the King of England" is doomed to fail by comparison. Ironically, they are comparisons that the film itself keeps making.
For example, this imported satire keeps trying to turn Bulgarian actor Ivan Barnev into an Eastern European version of Charlie Chaplin. Showing Barnev's character as a clownish waiter on roller skates? Please, we've seen Chaplin's 1916 short "The Rink," and there's no way any film is going to live up to it.
Also, for a movie with such an obvious appreciation for the classics, this one has some curious modern-day sensibilities and is too obsessed with sex. The fact that it treats some fairly serious subjects much too flippantly leaves a bad aftertaste.
Still, it is imaginatively directed and features a good cast. Screenwriter/director Jiri Menzel adapted Bohumil Hrabal's novel, about a now-elderly man named Jan Dite (Oldrich Kaiser), who's just been freed from a decade-plus imprisonment.
Since being released, he's been sent to an exile of sorts and is spending most of his time telling his life story to others.
That includes detailing various exploits sexual and otherwise as a younger man (with Barnev playing this version of the character). He also tells about how, before World War II, he fell in love with Liza (Julia Jentsch), a German teacher and Nazi sympathizer.
Veteran Menzel ("Larks on a String") tries to contrast comic and tragic story elements, which may remind some of Italian comic actor/director Roberto Benigni's better works.
The talented cast makes it work better than it probably should. That includes Jentsch ("Sophie Scholl: The Final Days") and veteran Kaiser, whose voice-over narration is one of the few that's actually appropriate and is needed.
"I Served the King of England" is rated R and features full female and partial male nudity, simulated sex and other sexual contact, some brief war violence (explosive mayhem, mostly overheard) and slapstick, ethnic slurs and other derogatory language, some suggestive references and humor, and scattered mild profanity. Running time: 114 minutes.
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