Supermarket Sweep

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Review of 'Czech Dream', directors Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda

A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of consumerism - and when it comes to consumerism the giant supermarkets are first at the checkout. In the Czech Republic this is especially true, where 125 'hypermarkets' have popped up in just five years and where they have a word to describe someone who's addicted to shopping at them - hypermarketománie.

Interested by this, film students Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda set out to investigate mass consumerism and the power of manipulation in marketing. More of a reality-TV feature cum sociological experiment than a film, Czech Dream's filmmakers run a full-blown promotional campaign for a hypermarket that doesn't actually exist and to film the whole thing.

First they assign themselves as managers of the fake hypermarket, go through a makeover and hire a large advertising company. They cast a number of families to test their shopping behaviour and they even record a hilarious pop song sung by a choir of 50 children. They don't stop there - they produce commercials for radio and TV slots, posters for bus stops, a leaflet advertising their own cheap 'products' and build a huge billboard in a field where the hypermarket will be 'launched'. We see the decisions, research methods and computer technology involved in producing slick eye-catching ads that grab people's attention and which specifically rely on manipulation of consumer psychology.

What's most fascinating about the film is the degree of self-reflexivity adopted by the filmmakers. The constant reminder and presence of the crew aside, the filmmakers themselves posing as the hypermarket managers means they fully participate in the docu-experiment, while taking complete responsibility for their hoax (if not too bravely). This approach allows them to successfully highlight the contradictions of the advertising game and of those who play within it.

The name of the hypermarket (and the film), Czech Dream, the clever advertising slogans (like 'Don't come' and 'Don't spend') and the lyrics of the song (which include 'It will be a big bash/And if you have no cash/Get a loan and scream/I want to fulfil my dream...') also demonstrate the sense of sarcasm and irony in all levels of their project. This however, does not limit the filmmakers from engaging seriously with their subject matter. There are references to the country's shift from state capitalism, through archive footage at the start and by people trying to recall the times before hypermarkets. The filmmakers use these comparisons to illustrate the way marketing has managed to exploit people's particular weaknesses that are rooted in their past.

In the Czech Republic the hoax provoked outrage and huge media coverage with even a mention in parliament. The filmmakers' journey reaches its climax at the grand opening of the hypermarket, where thousands of consumers turn up and stampede towards an open field masked by a massive billboard. The students courageously hang around to face the reactions of the unsuspecting crowd. Summing up the mood, one of the disappointed consumers says it's 'because Czechs will fall for anything'. This represents a possible deep-rooted pessimism within Czech society that could be the result of the broken promises of free market capitalism and the betrayal of all the hopes that the Velvet Revolution of 1989 had brought.

This is most accurately reflected at the end where the angry crowd display their scepticism of joining the EU, suspecting it as another con. A TV discussion about Czech Dream with the prime minister has him defending the state money spent on the government's huge 'Yes' advertising campaign. Nevertheless, the Czech Republic did join and the ending is in some ways quite depressing - watching the disappointment of so many ordinary people who fell for the scam. Yet in response to the hoax one woman does say, 'Our politicians make fools out of 10 million. And they do it every day...'