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The French-sounding title of this Czech new wave re-release by Facet
Videos identifies the place, the time and the atmospherically suggestive setting for this
Cold War-era allegory. Scarcely known in the English-speaking world, Czech director Jan
Schmidt has been making films since the early 1960s. The End of August at the Hotel
Ozone recounts a dystopic tale of survival in post-nuclear holocaust Central Europe.
The films look is almost Resnais-like (i.e., Hiroshima,
mon amour) in its moody black-and-white, simple cuts and real-time editing. It is
also suggestive of Tarkovskys Solaris,
in its ponderously slow pacing and vague historical, psychological, and moral allusions.
The film opens with a montage of rocket-launching countdowns, a shorthand transcription of the ending of the world. A countdown begins in English; at "zero" the film cuts to a wheat field and another countdown, this time in Russian. Thereupon a third countdown is ticked off in Chinese. This repeats several more times, with one language after another overlaid, until it builds to a cacophony of hypnotically rhythmic voices intoning the end.
Earths population seems to have died off almost overnight. The immediate cause, according to the film, is leukemia. Even as one character bitterly laments that the soil does not produce anything any more, the camera sweeps across forested hills, verdant meadows, and an inviting-looking river. Low-tech and low-budget in the manner of Hollywood B films of the time, Schmidts film may be forgiven its continuity problems, for its aim is more in the nature of a Twilight Zone parable than a cgi-era high-tech spectacle.
The End of August at the Hotel Ozone often feels more like a B western, the depopulated world more a moral blank-slate backdrop for the actors to seek their salvation. There is not a fear-driven plot of a Mad Max (no savage mutants attack the band of survivalists), nor is there any compelling sense of apocalyptic dread, as dramatized in Threads, Mick Jacksons made-for-U.K.-TV drama which is perhaps the single most horrifying depiction of post-apocalyptic annihilation.
A Mother Courage-type old woman (Beta Ponicanova) roams the countryside, collecting fellow survivors as she finds them. Loving close-ups often reveal a stunningly radiant, wise woman, a saintly spirit out of whose care-worn face beams compassion born of grief beyond human endurance. The old woman is to be the New Eve and is even called "the mother of mankind." Coincidentally, the survivors are all younger women, all now aged about thirty. This motley band of Amazonian warriors ride horses, tease and kill wild animals and generally behave in a churlish-childish manner. They will eventually be labeled "animals." As the old woman seeks to find men to mate with her post-civilized tribe, it becomes clear that even the memory of the old world will die out with her passing.
When they happen upon the last living old man (Ondrej Jarichek) and the dilapidated mountain resort (the ruins of Hotel Ozone), the she-animals instinct is, first, to run away in fear, but then, in their sadistic and squandering way, to poke and prod, to taunt and take. The viewer is put rather in the mind of life among the Don Cossacks of a previous era or of nihilistic survival during the civil war following the October Revolution in Russia. Instead of the absolute end of the world, this Cold War artifact seems to suggest that the more things change the more they remain the same.
- Les Wright