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Film (p)review: "Cesky Sen" (Czech Dream)

category dublin | arts and media | opinion/analysis author Thursday July 21, 2005 15:03author by k Report this post to the editors

Review of 2004 documentary about two art students who fake a new supermarket opening.

The two lads running from the crowd...
The two lads running from the crowd...

A friend of mine recently jokingly offered up an explanation as to why all the Eastern Europeans living near us in the neighbourhood were seemingly outwardly unfriendly and aggressive towards us: "All those years of communism must have really pissed them off." Having watched the documentary "Cesky Sen" (Czech Dream), I wonder which pissed off the Czech citizens more after a hoax was pulled on them - the urges created deep within their psyche by slick advertising to queue up at the crack of dawn for the promise of cheap mass consumer goods (which is presumably what the pranksters intended), or the fact that their tax money had gone into a grant funding the two art students final year project, which made them look like fools.

I saw the trailer (which is also a set-up!) on the internet before viewing the film, which shows the students, dressed in smart suits posing as marketing executives, being surrounded by a very, very angry & bloodthirsty mob. The public have just been fooled into showing up for the opening of a new hypermarket; which turns out to be nothing but a massive shop front, and nothing behind it. "Cesky Sen" (Czech Dream) is the name of this shop. It has been promoted on TV with accompanying irritating jingle; full colour glossy flyers have been handed out at bus and train stations; and hoardings & bus stops have been plastered with posters - some containing anti-slogans like "Dont come", and "Dont buy".

The film documents from the initial beginnings of the prank set-up, to the eventual "launch" and the aftermath. We see the two art students enlist the help of an advertising firm, which is an eye-opener in some ways. Are "ad-execs" really that conscious of the bullshit they spout in their creations? It would seem so. The students go through wardrobe makeovers, graphic designers put together a nice, happy, fluffy logo, re-assuring voices are broadcast on the radio telling the public about the wonderful Czech Dream, and a TV company is brought in to create television spots. Its all slickly done, very professional, well beyond the standards of most tired culture-jamming or adbusting efforts.

The fun lies in the building of tension coming up to the launch date (especially if you've seen the trailer!). What is going to happen? Will anybody show up? What are they expecting? What is going to happen when they realise they've been duped? Is there going to be a mass-awakening of the conciousness of the proletariat in attendance to the evils of neo-liberal capitalist exploitation through the mass media and a complete rejection of said values - or are they just going to go fucking bananas after they've waited around for hours for the non existent shop to open?

This is an intelligent, amusing and insightful film. It shows how the Czech Republic appears to have jumped out of the fat and into the fire, caught between the twin evils of the Communist Scylla and the Hyper-Capitalist Charybdis (although a marked difference being they are not being forced at the point of a Soviet gun into the shops!). At the start of the film there is some telling images of how the society has changed - the 1968 Prague Spring, where people rioted against political oppression by Leninists/Stalinists in power, juxtaposed with footage from only a few years ago where the riot police were called in at the opening of a new electric/white goods megastore.

It brings up some ideas again (in my mind anyway) of when anti-capitalists descended on Prague for the IMF/WB showdown five years back. Locals were extremely pissed off at young rich visiting westerners carrying red hammer-and-sickle flags around town, for years a symbol of oppression and misery. In their minds, they wanted anything BUT left politics. Is there an economic/political alternative to squeeze through the middle of both the rampant free market and oppressive state socialism? Five years on, nothing has materialised for the Czechs yet... until then, they'll have to make do like the rest of us, and suffer saturation of advertising and marketing pressure to buy things they dont really need.

Cesky Sen opens in Dublin tomorrow.

Related Link: http://www.czech-tv.cz/specialy/ceskysen/en/

Hell hath no fury like a consumer hoaxed...
Hell hath no fury like a consumer hoaxed...

Ceci n'est pas une Cesky Sen pomme.
Ceci n'est pas une Cesky Sen pomme.

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