Does a film project mean anything goes? There's a certain mindset that holds, when you speak from behind a camera, presumption and questionable taste translates into audaciousness and originality. Two film students' thesis project at a Prague film school raises the question about such iffy judgment. The victims of their chutzpah would seriously challenge these boys' sense of where to draw a line.
What Filip Remunda and Vit Klusak dreamt up for a documentary was an ultimate marketing stunt: drumming up excitement and customers for a non-existent "Czech Dream, the superstore for a better life!" With an elaborate ad campaign, complete with flyers for house brand products, a theme song, website, and clever TV ads, they inundate Prague with promos for a fake mega-market opening, including reverse psychology come-ons that say, "Don't Go, Don't Rush, Don't Spend."
Remarkably, they convince the government to back the project, which gives employment to a whole cadre of professional ad designers and producers, hair stylists, costumers, construction pipefitters, and digital printers. The latter construct a false two-dimensional picture, four stories tell, representing the new store which, from across a field, looks like the real thing.
It's enough to bring out a big, trusting crowd, empty baskets and strollers at hand, ready to enjoy an opening ceremony and trudge a long way across that field to the false front. A handheld camera documents the excited anticipation and the range of reactions to the con. Statements vary from a forgiving "Well, they brought us out on such a nice day" to angry and threatening "Who is responsible for this disgrace!?"
Realizing that they were obliged to appear if they were to avoid being branded cowards, the student filmmakers field questions and face the animosity of the crowd as people leave the fairgrounds shaking off their mortification in a variety of ways. The production geniuses themselves show no remorse and beg no forgiveness. They are filmmakers, and even a manipulative prank on a city, targeted at obvious needs of its citizens, is allowed. But it's hard to ignore their self-promotion, superiority, and prowess.
The film has been championed by executive producer Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) and praised by Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine, Sicko). Fellow documentarians, they apparently found this callous experiment in the guise of scientific legitimacy suitably controversial to be associated with their hit brands. In its tongue-in-cheek, overwhelmingly-produced style it owes most, however, to Bent Hamer's artful Kitchen Stories.
Czech Dream is an over-intellectual meditation on capitalism run amok, with cynicism the side note. I come down on the side of wishing the boys had simply had a more creative idea. The guise of scientific value has the stain of snake oil, and the audience it appeals to will be those who revel in other peoples' mishaps and embarrassments. In other words, lowbrows.
Aka Ceský sen.