I Served The King Of England is Jiri Menzel's first feature in more than 10 years.
Set during the former Czechoslovakia's fall to the Nazis, the film follows the adventures of a waiter who longs to be a millionaire. It is Menzel's latest adaptation of novelist Bohumil Hrabal's work, following on from Closely Watched Trains, which won the foreign-language Oscar in 1969, and Larks On A String, which took the Golden Bear in 1990.
In adapting the screenplay, Menzel says he tried to preserve Hrabal's way of looking at the world and to make it accessible to those who have not read the book. The film, he says, is "the result of a lot of contemplation. I'm satisfied with it."
The director says this is not a comeback, as he has been trying to direct I Served The King Of England ever since the collapse of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989 allowed him to return to the director's chair. But disputes over the book rights have delayed the $3.5m project.
"It was a long time coming to the screen and ultimately it got made by the right director," says executive producer Andrea Metcalfe. "It's been an honour, not only to work with Menzel but also to be able to present this film internationally."
The film was the biggest - or perhaps the first - Czech event film ever. More than 100,000 people came to see the film during its opening weekend (admissions for Casino Royale, by comparison, were roughly half that number).
Days later, the film was announced in competition at Berlin. "The recognition from the Berlinale is fantastic," Metcalfe says. But despite the reception at home, the director is not getting too excited: "The film has had great attention from the audience and the producers are satisfied."
Although the film's message is delivered with a heavy Czech accent, Metcalfe hopes global audiences will see it as an international story. "It represents an important period not just of Czech history or German history, but of European history," she says.
The film stars three actors of different nationalities. Top billing goes to Czech Oldrich Kaiser, but Bulgarian actor Ivan Barnev dominates the action, even in scenes with Germany's Julia Jentsch, star of Sophie Scholl - The Final Days.
I Served The King Of England
A waiter seeks wealth and love as his country falls under Nazi control
Executive producer: Andrea Metcalfe Producer: Rudolf Biermann
Production companies: AQS, Bioscop
Main cast: Ivan Barnev, Julia Jentsch, Oldrich Kaiser
Int'l sales: Bavaria Film International