Czech Dream Review
In early May 2003, ads began to go up in Prague announcing the opening of a new hypermarket, Cesky Sen (Czech Dream). Its simple, colourful posters (exhorting shoppers NOT to come, NOT to spend), catchy jingle, flyers, tv spots and competitive pricing caught the eye of the bargain hungry Czech consumers and on the opening day over 4,000 people turned up, hoping to get their mitts on a cheap tv or digital camera. They came away with something very different.
For Cesky Sen was not a real supermarket. The brightly coloured front turned out to be a painted canvas. Cesky Sen was an elaborate hoax, existing only in the minds of two film students, Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda, and the designers and advertising agency staff that they enlisted to help them.
The film opens with the scruffy pair being made over into respectable, businesslike entrepreneurs. Image consultants style their hair and groom them, and then it’s off to Hugo Boss where they are outfitted with bespoke suits in exchange for 10 seconds of product placement. And then the creation of a dream unfolds. Creative meetings are followed by design decisions, recording sessions, the creation of radio and tv advertising, focus groups – all is done exactly as it would be for a real supermarket.
The documentary format has been presenting us with some of the most thought-provoking and intelligent films recently – Touching The Void, Etre Et Avoir and Super Size Me, to name but a few, were respectively funnier, more touching and more thrilling and unexpected than a dozen fictional films released at the same time. Cesky Sen fits well into this bracket of human interest with a political undertone, exploring consumerism run riot in a formerly Communist society. Its not quite as shocking as Super Size Me but if anything its funnier, largely due to the wickedly hilarious performances of Klusak and Remunda, posing as businessmen.
Particularly interesting is their expose of the advertising industry. The advertising agency ‘creatives’ are delighted to come on board, fully aware that they are creating a demand for a product that doesn’t exist, but equally unaware that the film is sending their profession up and making them look ridiculous. There’s one particularly funny scene where, during an alfresco meeting, one of the account managers starts banging his head on the table and then abruptly walks off. Equally amusing are the lyrics to the Cescky Sen anthem, complete with Mariah Carey-esque wailing and schoolgirl choir, that invite you to take out a loan if you don’t have any money.
The scary thing is that, of course, this is exactly what the big supermarkets do do, and its horrifying to go on a tour of a Czech branch of Tescos and realise that soon people will literally live their life out in hypermarkets: born in their hospitals, clothed and fed and housed by them, and finally buried by them. (If you don’t believe me, read Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets, Joanna Blythman.) The power of advertising, manipulating people, cannot MAKE them buy things they don’t want but it can create an awareness – people turned up on opening day even though they said afterwards that they knew it couldn’t be real, and even when faced with the reality of the banner, were looking for a hidden underground entrance.
Czech Dream opens at London’s ICA on June 24th and will be introduced by director Filip Remunda with a Q and A afterwards.
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