I loved this movie. It tells the story , in flashback , of Jan Dite's rise and fall and reflection starting at his release from prison. (After serving 14 years and nine months of a 15 year sentence...good behavior, you know.) We are told in voice-over that the diminutive Dite's life's ambition is to be a millionaire. It's a serious story told in slap-stick style.
In the 1930's , in Prague, young Dite starts out selling hot dogs at a train station. There he comes in contact with Walden, a Jewish businessman, who will turn up briefly several times in the movie and will become somewhat of a mentor to Dite. He will see him again at a train station in an entirely different context. Dite's rise takes him from hot-dog vendor to busboy, waiter to Head Waiter,and eventually millionaire Hotelier. There are some dips in the rise and an eventual fall.
Dite has much luck with women in spite of his tiny size. The decadence of the time and place is shown in generous proportions through beautiful women being used as playthings and the indulgences in food and potables for the rich.
The photography is beautiful throughout. Whether we are in a brothel or a bar, a restaurant or a hotel the interiors are lush and gorgeous.The camera leaves out nothing and for those of us who love decoration and design it is an unending treat. The food preparation and service are treated with the same care. The dinners and banquets depicted in the movie are a delight to behold. I've always heard that Prague is a beautiful city and it is higher on my list of must-sees after this movie.
The beautiful photography is reason enough to see this movie but there is more.
Dite's ambition makes him selfish and blind to what is going on around him. At the beginning of the war Dite has become Head Waiter at a posh hotel restaurant. There he has another mentor, Skrivanek, the M'aitreD. As the German's move in he does not join the resistance but becomes a sympathiser due only to the fact he falls in love with a woman his size.
There is a brief but profound scene where the happy hustle and bustle of the dining room merges seamlessly with the joyless room after the German Occupation.
Dite betrays,in different ways, both his mentors. His eventual riches come from the suffering of others. Though this terrible time is treated lightly in the movie I think it is because the camera and script shines completely through Dite's eyes and mind and does not try to make us feel anything. We are merely presented with Dite's view of life. There are times when Dite has a tiny twinge of conscience and it is presented as just that; a twinge.
A still oblivious, but rich Dite is imprisoned after the Commmunists take over. It is his post-imprisonment time that finally causes him to reflect (both literally and figurativelly).
Be aware that there is nudity and some scenes of sexuality, though not graphic.