Late August at the Hotel Ozone A.K.A. The End of August at Hotel Ozone (1967)
I cannot find a trailer for this movie, here’s a clip from the movie. WARNING: Contains likely very real footage of a woman twisting the head off of a snake.
Beta Ponicanova (The Old Woman/Dagmar Hubertusova), Ondrej Jariabek (The Old Man/Otakar Herold), Jitka Horejsi (Martha), Vanda Kalinová (Judith), Alena Lippertová (Eva), Irina Lzicarová (Anna), Natalie Maslovová (Magdalen), Jana Novaková (Clara), Magda Seidlerová (Barbara), Hana Vítková (Theresa)
[The old woman points at rings on a recently felled tree, slowly moving out in 5 or 10 year increments as she speaks] “10, 20, 30, 40, 48, 50. Fifty? In those days the old world still existed. This is where it happened. Lots of people survived: people, animals, and trees. Only later everything died off: people, animals, and trees. But there were still cinemas and trains. I was still young, there were fewer people all the time. They left towns. You were born somewhere around here. In those days even the last survivors had died. We were in the mountains then. We began our trek around here. You were only ten or twelve. Then the dogs tore apart the last boy. Helen drowned around here. And this is where Marie died.”
Well folks, this WAS going to publish next Monday but I’ve got a big project planned for then and needed to move the schedule up a bit so you get an extra column on an off week.
As a movie lover and a pretentious jerk who likes to wax philosophical, I find movies (and stories in general) to be the most valuable luxury that we as human beings have. There is a certain magic in using words and pictures to wring real and honest emotions out of people and I remain reverent of that magic. However, I am also fully cognizant of the fact that the vast majority of movies and stories I own are little more than simple diversion, they’re not an emotional flat-line but I watch them and feel simply entertained, relaxed, centered. It’s not hard to figure out why I, and people in general, prefer light fare to deep emotional experiences, some stories may be richer in emotions but are quite exhausting. I’m sure there are people who can happily sit down and watch The Last Emperor or Cannibal Holocaust every day for a year, but I hope those people are locked in rooms far away from other people for the safety of mankind. While these more emotional stories may tire our souls, they do enrich our understanding of what it means to be human and I believe that they should be seen or read regularly as a sort of recharging of our minds.
After languishing in the dumb movie ghetto for over a month, I decided I needed something artsy to cleanse my palette. Here was a movie that was well-reviewed, foreign, had a long artsy-sounding title, was in black-and-white, and probably didn’t involve mid-air kicks or samurai swords. I kind of had an idea what I was in for, media from the former Soviet Union can rarely ever be called “pleasant” or “joyful” and that coupled with the doomsday genre was likely going to generate something about as feel-good and happy as Au Hasard Balthazar so I can’t say I was surprised by how depressed I was upon finishing Late August at the Hotel Ozone. What I can say I was surprised about was how the film managed to surpass my jaded expectations of what it would be and still kick me in the guts the way it did.
Hotel Ozone is a pretty minimalist film, it’s about an old woman (she’s given a name later in the movie but it’s treated as an unimportant detail, for purposes of the plot she is “The Old Woman”) and a group of girls somewhere between late teens and early adulthood as they travel through the mountains looking for civilization in the ruins of a world ravaged by war. We’re given very little to go on as to what caused the collapse, but the film starts with a myriad of voices counting down from ten in several different languages, the old woman speaks of how people began dying out years after whatever happened, and a character met later in the movie talks about everyone he knows dying of Leukemia so it’s likely nuclear war of some sort.
The girls were born after the event, so they know little of the pre-nuke world (though it would appear that the old woman has taught them to read), they pass their time going from place to place scrounging for supplies. Their leisure time is spent on cruel and destructive behavior such as killing animals or burning drums of fuel. Even the means by which they survive is extremely disruptive and wasteful, like how they fish with hand grenades.
They have been on the move for something like twenty years, their numbers dwindling slowly. The old woman is losing hope and is becoming sick, still she holds out hope that they’ll find people and that they will be able to repopulate the Earth. An early scene of her walking around a ruined town, chasing fresh chalk marks in hope of them being made by someone else is met with bitter disappointment as she discovers it was one of the girls playing with something she found in the ruins. Spoilers follow, so skip to after the next picture if you don’t want to know the rest of the movie.
The girls find a cow one day and kill it. As they are going about the task of butchering the animal, a man runs up to greet them. The old woman narrowly manages to stop the girls from shooting the man and they follow him back to his home, the titular Hotel Ozone, where he welcomes them in. The old woman is overjoyed to have found someone, and the old man welcomes them with old world comforts: milk, eggs, coffee, wine. Hope briefly swells that everything is going to be alright, but the girls are less than impressed with the old man and his house full of extravagances.
At dinner, the old man presents the girls with a Victrola and finally something he has impresses them. They are amazed at the music and joyful to hear it, but the joy is short lived as they discover the old woman has died suddenly. The old man buries the woman and returns to the Hotel Ozone to find the girls preparing to go on; they have no reason to do so, but it’s what they’ve always done. He begs them to stay but they refuse and then demand he give them the Victrola. Suddenly aware that the woman’s death has left him alone with a pack of vicious dogs that now have no master to hold their leash, the man runs inside begging them to just go away. One of the girls shoots the old man and they take the record player, leaving him to rot on the floor.
If you’re a person who likes their post-nuke movies to have monsters then Hotel Ozone has them in spades, they’re just not who you’d expect. Coming into this movie I expected a dour affair about a group of women being beat down and picked off by a merciless land, but the only merciless thing in this film is the girls themselves. They’re wild, savage, cruel, heartless, and destructive. They have no sentimentality, they have no empathy; they’re animals but animals with the intelligence of human beings.
The Old Woman is a stern authority figure, but it soon becomes apparent that she’s just trying to point the girls’ more destructive urges where they’ll cause the least suffering. She looks hopefully for more people to re-populate the Earth, but if these girls are what that new world are going to be like then it’s probably for the best that humans just die out.
One of the things I appreciated most about this movie is its complete lack of subtext. I appreciate symbolism, but I really appreciate a story which can make its meaning known without even needing it. There’s no metaphor to anything, no cruel irony to the ending, it’s just about how people are awful when put into situations of pure survival and I can get behind that. Hotel Ozone is kind of a dark mirror of George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, a novel that also deals with a group of selfish destructive children barely kept at bay by elders trying to rebuild the world in the wake of an extinction event, though that one is more of a cozy catastrophe and ends on a much more hopeful note.
The one caveat I have to point out for potential viewers is that this film features a lot of animal cruelty. I can’t say for sure if the animal killings are real, but they sure seem to be and having seen a few animals in the death rattles in my life it looks pretty legit. In one scene a girl twists the head off of a snake on-camera, another features a girl shooting a German Shepard and then another bashing its head in with the butt of a rifle, a third features a girl shooting a cow in the head. The cow is the only one that may have been done humanely as the corpse has a hole perfectly in the center of its head and was likely a slaughter cow marked for death anyway, but it’s still somewhat distressing watching the actresses tearing into what is very clearly a real bovine carcass with knives. For a barometer, I found these scenes distressing and I find all but the “muskrat” death in Cannibal Holocaust to be pretty tame to watch, so if you’re upset by this kind of thing you’ll likely find it very upsetting.
Late August at the Hotel Ozone is probably the bleakest post-apocalyptic movie and maybe the bleakest movie in general I’ve ever seen. Shockingly it relies very little on spectacle, instead just choosing to show pain through natural human interaction. It will make you feel awkward, worried, sad, and tense and it moves at a fairly quick pace. The movie clocks in at about an hour and seventeen minutes, but it feels like its about thirty minutes long. It’s a beautiful study on minimalist dialogue, effects, and settings and no matter how you feel about the film’s more graphic content, it is a tremendously well-made effort.
Late August at the Hotel Ozone deserves a big prestigious Criterion Collection release, but what it has is a lonely bare-bones DVD which you can purchase from Amazon.
NEXT TIME ON DOOMSDAY REELS
I am the Nightrider! I’m a fuel injected suicide machine! I am the rocker, I am the roller, I am the out-of-controller!