Whether you decide that this project is a brilliant hoax that exposes how the rapid transition from communism to a free-market economy has created an ad-addicted, consumer-mad culture in the Czech Republic, or that it's simply a cruel joke, one thing is undeniable: It's a fascinating account, formulated and filmed by a pair of young Czech media students, of the way advertising and consumer manipulation can create a market for anything at all, even something that doesn't exist.
Shopping for food in a Czechoslovakian market once meant standing in block-long lines, but today's Czech Republic has been transformed by "hypermarkets," massive consumer palaces like Tesco, Target and Wal-Mart where everything under the sun is for sale and families can spend a whole day shopping for whatever they can afford. In 2002, Film Academy of Prague students Filip Remunda and Vit Klusak decided to deconstruct this brave new capitalistic world with a hoax of rare scope and audacity. They would hire a well-known ad agency to create a campaign for a new hypermarket called "Czech Dream" (the name was finalized after countless hours of test marketing), put up posters at bus stations and kiosks, build a slick website featuring mock-ups of Czech Dream-branded products, create radio spots with an infectious theme song, and print up circulars boasting unheard-of low prices. They would then invite people to assemble on May 31, 2003, at a meadow on the outskirts of Prague, for a glimpse of the brand-new facade of the eagerly anticipated Czech Dream glittering in the distance. And the facade is all they'll ever see: The store is a brightly colored, two-dimensional front, no more real than a film set; there's nothing behind Czech Dream's shiny promise. Remunda and Klusak film the whole project, beginning with their own makeovers from schlubby geeks to serious capitalist moguls on the move (courtesy of Prague's new Hugo Boss boutique), to their meetings with Mark/BBDO, the more-than-willing ad agency seduced by the argument that creating a market for a nonexistent product is great publicity. The firm creates devilish "anti-ads" that say "Don't Go" and "Don't Spend" over the Czech Dream logo. (Consumers, eager to go somewhere and spend something, take these obscure admonitions as a challenge.) Klusak and Remunda put out a casting call for a "typical hypermarket family" and hire a shopping consultant to observe their behavior. After recording a children's chorus singing a heartstring-tugging original jingle that taps into Czech nationalism while urging consumers to steal cash and make their Czech dreams come true, they flood the media with their ads and prepare for opening day.
There's undoubtedly something cruel about a prank that exploits people so eager for a bargain they're willing to believe every promise made by the Czech Dream flier, since their credulity might have more to do with trying to make ends meet than with greed or gullibility. But the scenes in which Klusak and Remunda interview their typical hypermarket families offer a clear and unexpectedly poignant window into the new Czech mind-set. One father admits to nights of sleeplessness before visits to a hypermarket, while a young girl compares a post-outdoor-hiking trip to Tesco to the sun coming out. After the jig is up, many make an immediate connection between the hoax and the Czech government's media campaign to drum up support for the Czech Republic's admittance into the European Union, a dimension of meaning that may be lost on many non-Czech viewers. Nevertheless, the film is a bracing indictment of capitalism and advertising that certainly applies to the U.S. Ironically, the Czech Republic became a member of the European Union on May Day 2004, one month before the film's debut. leave a comment --Ken Fox