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Two Czechs cash in on advertising prank

Unsuspecting shoppers show up for the grand opening of a 'Dream' store that doesn't exist.

September 07, 2007|Robert Abele | Special to The Times

When we heed an advertisement, is it a choice or a surrender? That's a question given a vigorous working-over in the politically prankish documentary "Czech Dream," about a controversial 2003 hoax in which filmmakers Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda created a massive Prague-wide ad campaign for a new, low-price, everything-you'd-want "hypermarket" (a big box store, essentially) that thousands of early-rising citizens discovered on opening day was nothing more than a scaffold-held facade in an open field.

While the groundwork is laid -- focus groups, logo design, making over Klusak and Remunda into executive types, even commissioning a gushingly inspirational theme song (that tells listeners to take out a loan, if they must, to fulfill their dream) -- the film wavers between nervous dread for the unsuspecting public and sheer gall at the number of consultants who agreed to help sell something nonexistent (for money, of course).

In one of the more delicious moments of hypocrisy, a proud ad guy refuses to accept the filmmakers' suggestion that the campaign say that people won't leave empty-handed. "You may lie in your film, but we don't lie in advertising," he says.

Another ad man likens his work to the Sistine Chapel, which he says was nothing more than a commissioned billboard with a God-is-great message but is now art.

As a wry screed on the military-style consumerist push that preys on our susceptibility to having our desires articulated for us -- and too often lets us down -- "Czech Dream" has an impish effectiveness. But what saves it from being an arrogantly aren't-we-clever? home movie is, refreshingly, the flimflammed masses themselves, lured as the bargain-hungry but left looking like cattle out for a graze. Their exposure isn't answered with violence but the realization that the experience isn't far removed from suffering a manipulative government's empty promises. About 2,000 may have been misled that day, but as one bemused dupe remarks, "Our politicians make fools out of 10 million."

"Czech Dream." Unrated. In Czech with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At Laemmle's Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A. (213) 617-0268.

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