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Manipulation & exploitation

Czech Dream

Directed by Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda

(Czech Republic, general release June 2005, 87 mins)

Reviewed by Manny Thain

CZECH DREAM is a film about a hypermarket that doesnít exist. Not only that, it says so on the publicity material. It is reliable information. It is the sort of information that a few thousand Czechs in the middle of a field on 31 May 2003 could have made good use of.

Czech Dream (Cesky Sen) is the name of the hypermarket that does not exist. The ad campaign to launch it, however, did. This fly-on-the-wall film charts its course. It is a glimpse into how big business and advertising manipulate people. It is very funny in places, always interesting, sometimes uncomfortable.

Near the start, Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda, stand in an empty, frozen field near the capital, Prague. They explain the film. They put the viewer in the picture.

First stop for the Czech Dream team is to get the right look. The Hugo Boss boss is anxious to stress their mutual agreement: "The logo". An ad agency teaches them how to act, talk and walk: "Now, youíre a perfect, semi-finished product". From an agency that boasts, "Our products work for things that suck or donít even exist", they get their own logo: "Itís a bubble that will burst soon".

The off-the-wall ads are to generate interest: "Donít spend", "Donít go there". The focus group seems pretty sure: "Donít come? Sure Iíll come!" They enlist families, using radio ads: "We hardly remember what it was like before supermarkets"; "Ten years ago we werenít buying water". A theme tune is written, recorded and released.

The project provokes uneasy discussion in the agency around the slogan, "You wonít leave empty handed". "We donít lie", one insists. His colleague is less reticent. He compares all advertising with the Sistine Chapel ceiling, "a commission like any other".

It is fascinating and a little frightening seeing a woman rigged up to cameras, a tool of the trade to gauge the impact of logo, headlines, products and prices. After the presentation the researcher says that she does not agree with misleading campaigns.

Czech Dream: "Then why did you take part?"

Researcher: "You got info on how to market the most convincing ad so it would affect the recipient. The decision to manipulate the recipient was yours. The responsibility is yours". Itís tense. This interview ends abruptly.

The film builds up to its edgy finale, opening day 31 May, of which Klusak and Remunda say: "The attitudes of the Ďmanipulatorsí are confronted in the film with the opinions of the Ďmanipulatedí. Both camps are exposed through a seemingly absurd situation, and they are forced to define their attitude towards something that in reality doesnít even exist".

The filmmakers are worried that no one will come. But they do, a few thousand. Reactions range from disappointment to hilarity, resignation to rage: "I guess itís a stunt to show how greedy people are. But it still bums me out"; "Iím happy because it got me out of the house"; "Our politicians make fools out of ten million. And they do it every day". A young man is asked what the lesson is: "Donít believe filmmakersÖ Now Iím certain I wonít be voting for the EU".

Czech Dream gives a sense of some of the dramatic changes in the last 25 years since the collapse of the Stalinist regime. The directors say: "We were born in an advertisement free country, with Communist propaganda all over the place. And then it turned the other way round". They point out that 126 hypermarkets were built in five years: "The Czechs started shopping in these hypermarkets more than people in the other post-socialist countries, and the new edition of the Czech dictionary of neologisms [new words or meanings] features words like Ďhypermarketomanie Ė a pathological addiction to shopping in hypermarketsÖí"

The film is provocative. It makes you think. It also made Czech national news and led to questions in parliament. Czech Dream hit the news alongside the referendum for Czech Republic to join the EU, and the two issues got connected. People asked: Is there anything behind the slick EU referendum campaign? Is it another mirage?

There is a dilemma, however. The viewer knows the situation, most of the people in the film do not. In fact, the film uses the manipulative techniques available to expose those self-same methods Ė and three quarters of the funding came from advertising. Itís subversive. And itís exploitative. Dramatically, that adds to the tension and unease. The questions are left hanging in the air. Back at the start, the frozen field, Klusak and Remunda say: "Weíll see", then, "Youíll see". Thatís a good idea. Check out this hypermarketing.


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