Sunday, September 20, 2015

No - Bratislava Is Not Full Of Butchers Running Hostels To Kidnap and Torture Randy Americans

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Bratislava was the 3rd stop in our recent trip to eastern Europe. The name almost always draws a blank from Americans, unless they have seen the movie 'Hostel'. Perhaps no recent film did more to cast a shadow over Bratislava and Slovakia than this 2005 Quentin Tarantino gore fest.  It focused on three backpackers, two from the States and one from Iceland, who are looking for hot chicks in Amsterdam, then are told about the "really hot girls" in Slovakia and especially Bratislava who will "do anything". They are pointed to a specific hostel outside of Bratislava, and so catch the first train there that they can.

They become wary when their passports are taken by the desk clerk, but soon forget that little detail when they encounter girls who are indeed eager to go to bed. Then, one by one they begin to disappear - actually drugged by the women, then carted off by kidnappers to a really brutish dungeon where members of a hunting lodge club (each with a bulldog tattoo on his hand or arm) registers to be able to select a "trophy" victim to torture, or chop up as he/she sees fit. One of the Americans, Josh, has the misfortune to meet up with a failed surgeon from the Netherlands who now uses his dungeon-hunting lodge member status to improvise on skills he never had in the first place.

To be sure, this film is not for the faint of heart or the squeamish. It was also not received well by the countries in which most of the action unfolded. According to a Wikipedia entry on the film:

"The film's release was accompanied by strong complaints from the country of Slovakia, and also from the Czech Republic. Slovak and Czech officials were both disgusted and outraged by the film's portrayal of their countries as undeveloped, poor, and uncultured lands suffering from high criminality, war, and prostitution,fearing it would "damage the good reputation of Slovakia" and make foreigners feel it was a dangerous place to be. The tourist board of Slovakia invited (Eli) Roth on an all-expenses-paid trip to their country so he could see it is not made up of run-down factories, ghettos, and kids who kill for bubble gum. Tomáš Galbavý, a Slovak Member of Parliament from the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party, commented: "I am offended by this film. I think that all Slovaks should feel offended."

Putting oneself in the place of a proud Slovak this is exactly what would be a normal reaction, and certainly our brief visit showed a charming and enchanting place full of ancient castles and warm-hearted people. (Though one young American woman in our day tour group asked her companion, 'Where is the hunting lodge, like in Hostel?')

Director Roth, as the Wiki entry notes, tried to defend himself and the film by arguing: "Americans do not even know that this country exists. My film is not a geographical work but aims to show Americans' ignorance of the world around them."

But the point is, even if this is so - and to a large degree it is - a fictional name could have been chosen for the country and the city (formerly called Pressburg, before the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) left innominate and generic so as not to offend. Again, this is not 'PC' but rather simply displaying some mode of rational sensibility. ( Pressburg was also the capital of the Empire until it was moved to Buda - part of modern Budapest - really two cities, Buda and Pest,  in 1809 after the French captured it).

Once regarded as a suburb of Vienna, Bratislava now stands as a cosmopolitan capital in its own right - drawing much investment, and one of the most attractive and historical European cities one can visit.  Some of the sights we saw on our brief sojourn included: Bratislava Castle, St. Martin's Cathedral - towering 85m above the city, and commemorating 19 coronations between 1563 and 1830.  We were also interested to see the Opera House of the Slovak National Theater, where scenes from the James Bond flick, License to Kill were filmed (Featuring Bond girl Maryam d'Abo as a star Cello performer who Bond (Timothy Dalton Below is yours truly with the Slovak National Theater in background:
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For our part, we'd go back to Bratislava in a heartbeat. The sights- monuments were captivating, and the foods served terrific, tasty - and the only knock, probably too fattening!

But if you're looking for the "hunting lodge" or butcher dungeon featured in "Hostel", best not to waste your time!

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