You can’t always get what you want. In 2003, two Czech filmmakers took that song lyric to the extreme by creating a 90-minute exercise on how persuasion rules consumerism. Filip Remunda and Vit Klusák are one part Michael Moore and one part Naomi Klein as they transform themselves from film students to businessmen in the hope of accomplishing a deliciously fiendish goal: build a comprehensive marketing campaign around a fictitious shop.
By the 20-minute mark, you can’t help but anticipate how the Czech public will react. After all, the marketing plan is immaculate: dress the part (Hugo Boss provided the duds as long as their logo got ten seconds of air time), craft a catchy tune (with creepy lines such as “If you don’t have the cash/ Get a loan and scream/ I want to fulfill my dream”) and plaster every concrete space with flyers and posters. To further entice customers, the phony entrepreneurs mark down prices ridiculously low.
Through the planning stage, Klusak and Remunda offer a frightening glimpse into the advertising machine. More than one ad exec smiles toothily at the prospect of creating a fake ad campaign, claiming, “People like being persuaded.” But when the filmmakers come upon a copywriter who feels morally conflicted by the project, a question arises: is this idea going too far?
Czech Dream is too fun to watch to let those questions linger long. Whether it’s the TV ad dressed as an anti-commercial, using the slogan “Don’t buy,” or the streeter interviews that reveal a family’s love affair with shopping at malls, the scenes entertain without calling attention to themselves. In fact, the viewer is anticipating the climax of the film during the funny bits, making the wait excruciating.
When the money shot does arrive, the camera catches every dropped smile and sour grimace. Thousands of Czechs arrive to a cardboard façade on the day of the shop’s opening, sparking a mixture of fury and confusion. Even more revealing, though, are the few people who admit they appreciate leaving their home on a sunny day, making the shop’s non-existence a non-factor.
But Czech Dream prefers to focus on conflict. By zeroing in on several curmudgeons who shake their fists at the filmmakers, sympathy shifts to the intended victims, especially when an old woman on crutches hobbles slowly to the fake shop of her dreams. The film’s forgotten question comes up again: is this experiment in consumerism worth bamboozling honest folks just looking for a deal?
The answer becomes apparent in the film’s denouement. The fallout from the hoax ripples across the country and the world when headlines about the shop turn to the promise of the European Union. Conversations on the duplicitous experiment shift to intense roundtables on what politicians promise. It’s as if Czech Dream acts as a clarion call to the sedentary consumers happy to wallow in their malls and supermarkets, free from any jolts to rattle their inner cages. Undoubtedly, the film deserves recognition for not only being an entertaining romp through artistic culture jamming, but also for spotlighting complacency in the face of global change. (David Silverberg)
Dir. Filip Remunda and Vit Klusák