Menzel on Hrabal’s novels

Director laconic when describing joys of adapting books

In a press confab that felt like pulling teeth, reporters tried their best to encourage Jiri Menzel to talk about the difficulties and joys of adapting Bohumil Hrabal’s novels into film.

They came away only partially satisfied.

The Czech director, whose burlesque and picaresque “I Served the King of England” screened in Competition Friday, did talk about his love for Hrabal, intimating that he did his best to capture the spirit of the book.

Asked specifically to express what was special for him in this epic story and what the central character of the apprentice waiter meant to him, Menzel was frustratingly laconic.

“What is special you have to find yourself — in the book and in the film. I’m not using my own content,” he went on. “I accepted the project because I love the book.”

(Earlier Hrabal adaptation, “Closely Watched Trains,” won the Oscar in 1966; and another long banned, “Larks on a String,” snagged the Golden Bear in 1990.)

The director did elaborate more thoroughly on the lead actors in the film — Ivan Barnev, Oldrich Kaiser and Julia Jentsch — and their success in richly embodying their characters. Ditto for the music, calling his collaborator Ales Brezina “a musical genius.”

As for the style of the movie, he seemingly suggested that Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin — “my first teachers” — were indeed influences in the look of the movie.

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