2005Director: Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda
Cast: Vít Klusák, Filip Remunda and the Czech people
he world's yours so take it
All you need is to want it
It will be a nice big bash
And if you got no cash
Get a loan and scream
I want to fulfil my dream”
Even without knowing what this slogan is selling, surely you wouldn’t fall for it? What kind of product would justify you “get a loan and scream”? It must be wonderful—or stupid—beyond belief. Nevertheless, the Czech public was seduced by the promise of the Czech Dream—a hypermarket packed with impossible riches—even though there was absolutely nothing behind the (very real) advertising campaign. When thousands turned up for the grand opening of a hypermarket near Prague on 31st May 2003, they found out, like all dreams, that it had disappeared into thin air.
Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda’s on-the-hoof documentary begins with the duo standing in a bleak, bare field outside the city, as they introduce their scam. The dishevelled pair shiver nervously, perhaps because of the rain, but more likely because they’re about to toy with the shopaholic Czech public like an overfed guinea pig. The grand idea, which lies somewhere between situationalist shock-tactics and reality TV sadism, was to lure the public to a hypermarket grand opening, and observe their response when the people found out there was nothing there. Like Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, Czech Dream attempts to diagnose the extent and the effects of a modern addiction; in this case the craving is consumerism, and the body in question is Czech society. In the last five years, over 125 hypermarkets have opened in the Czech Republic, and the public’s zeal for shopping is such that a new word—hypermarketomanie—has been coined to describe the compulsion.
The first half of the film is given over to moulding the fictitious “Czech Dream” brand. Ditching their raincoats, the podgy and pale Vít and Filip are shaved and stuffed into Hugo Boss suits, and suddenly gain instant acceptance within the Czech Republic business community. Flattery, it seems, gets the duo everywhere. The pair let corporate voices do the talking as they listen attentively to advertising creative hyperbole (“we believe our work creates reality, not reflects it”); reading from the Nick Broomfield manual of documentary humiliation, the duo’s feigned admiration gives airtime over to the unpleasant marketing men, who embarrass themselves in grand style. Consumer’s eye movements are studied; radio jingles are targeted at the heartstrings. As a diagnosis of the consumer-crazy Czechs, it’s shamefully hilarious, like trying to suppress laughter as a hypochondriac reels off a crazy list of physical obsessions.
Yet as the film moves to the grand opening of the “hypermarket”—actually just a huge, colorful façade in the middle of their empty field—events take a more sobering turn. Those hoodwinked by the Czech Dream include many of the poor and elderly, some of whom remember the scarcity of goods under communism, and whom have made tiring journeys to try and do their weekly shopping. The camera captures the unfolding charade with unblinking attentiveness, with long takes of elderly people hobbling across the field. The confrontations between the filmmakers and the public make for uncomfortable viewing, and this extended tension is what raises this farce to the level of poignancy. These consumers are just cattle, and we are watching them being roughly herded towards a non-existent checkout.
However, Czech Dream has one more ace up its sleeve. Public outrage was only to be expected, but others, however, express a much deeper sense of political powerlessness. For the latter, the sacred cow of communism has simply been swapped for a free market that is every bit as bloated and unfathomable. Advertising is not just a symptom of the current social malaise, but a key part of the Czech conversion to capitalism—the recent campaign to join the European Union, which consisted of the word “Yes!” devoid of any real information and presented in ever more friendly branding, turns out to be every bit as vacuous as the Czech Dream campaign.
As an examination of consumerism and the Czech public, Czech Dream surpassed even its creators’ expectations, with questions even being asked in parliament about the morality of conning the public on such a grand scale. What starts, then, as a highly amusing supermarket sweep through Czech society, develops in the end into a furious complaint to the top level of management.
By: Derek Walmsley
Published on: 2005-11-22