There is nothing more delightful than absurdity. It is in creating humor and excessive depth in the most banal things that life becomes amusing. Otherwise, it’s just going through the motions.
With that said, “I Served the King of England” is the most absurd thing I’ve seen in ages. A 2006 Czech film directed by Jiří Menzel, it is based on a novel by acclaimed Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. Actually, to call it a movie is to not do it justice. “I Served the King of England” is a surrealistic painting masquerading as a movie. It is a post-modern work of literature doing a silver screen stunt. It is two hours of nonexistence, of being lost in the whims and fancies of a work so visually and mentally engaging that you, the audience, might as well be a part of the absurdity.
The movie celebrates the pleasures of life while acknowledging how absurd these pleasures are. Menzel’s story chronicles the disastrous and heart-wrenching modern history of the Czech Republic, but his visuals contrast the tragicness with the marvelous: gorgeous women; beautiful food; extravagant hotels; foamy mugs of beer and dark red wine.
Menzel paints the scenes with marvelous attention to detail. The plotline is accentuated by the movie’s changing color palette, which starts with warm and golden undertones, then slowly moves to grimy darkness as WWII takes place. Every now and then, we are abruptly taken to modern-day life, where the colors are harsh and realistic. The movie reeks with visual symbolism and conceptual metaphors.
“I Served the King of England” is a movie about the absurdity of life’s inextricable mix of sadness and elation.
Quoting a roughly-remembered line from the movie: “Her life might not have been happy, but it was very sadly beautiful.”