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ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
7. 7. 2005

Karlovy Vary Film Festival

The City of the Sun lies under some patchy cloud

Subtitled as a tale of working class heroes, Sluneční stát (City of the Sun) (ČR 2004) (the one Czech film in the main competition at Karlovy Vary) is a film about unemployment. The introducers of the film joked that in making this film, director Martin Šulík and writer Marek Leščak are fighting unemployment -- the more films that are made on this subject, the more people will be employed. And this will continue until but one small group of unemployed remains. About whom the films will be made.

In fact, the story of Sluneční stát is one of unemployment, but the film is really about the men themselves. It portrays the lives of an unfortunate foursome -- of the workers Karel, Milan, Tomáš and Vinco, who lose their jobs after the factory where they worked is sold to some Italians. The first scene sees them and their unhappy colleagues standing outside watching their bosses shyly leaving the building, having signed the deal that would rob these men of their livelihood. Security guards attempt to hold them back, but in vain. They break through and attack the businessmen as they try to make it to their cars. And a few hours later, the Vinco is cleaning up Karel's bloody ear, telling how one of his relatives, when laid off, at least received a watch. Karel glumly remarks that all he got was a hit in the face.

The film is the story of how these four then go on to try and make money in other ways. They put into action a number of screwball plans, all of which inevitably fail. Having pitched together the money they could scrape together (mostly by borrowing from the women in their lives), they buy one of the old lorries that they used to drive for the factory, and decide to use it to attempt to create some proper income by doing removals and picking up unwanted furniture. Between losing a flock of sheep and unsucessfully trying to steal the furnishings from an old church, their attempts at doing so generally are nothing but spectacular failures. The one real job that they do complete is a painful experience for them. They are employed to remove the belongings being seized from acquaintances of theirs. None of them are particularly happy to do this, but Tomáš outright refuses to go back into the building once he has seen what they must do. And then they lose the lorry in one of the most amusing moments of the film, when a man on the street waves Tomáš in as he is reversing the lorry out into the street. Tomáš gets out to close the gate he has come out of, and the man hops into the car and drives the vehicle away.

This spectacular display of incompetence is just one example of the inadequacy that shines out of the four men. The film opens with a number of shots of the empty factory where they worked, and these also appear scattered throughout the film -- as if to suggest that their problems are the fault of the factory. However, it is blatantly obvious that their failures come from nowhere but within. Once the lorry has been lost, the film concentrates on showing the personal lives of the unfortunate four. And these are in just as bad a state as their carreers. Milan is divorced, and looks after a wilful adolescent boy who is being threatened with expulsion from school, and who is becoming as much of an alcoholic as his mother. His parenting techniques leave something to be desired. When trying to force his son to start going back to school, he sits him down and forces a large amount of vodka down his neck. Karel's large family (he is a Catholic, and is against use of contraception) is not in such a dire situation, but he cannot provide properly for the needs of his four daughters, and his wife is unhappy being forced to stay in the house looking after the children. The street-wise Vinco is a womaniser at heart, but is trying to create a relationship for himself with the Eva, barmaid of the foursome's favourite haunt. He is incapable of commitment, though, and when Tomáš's wife throws herself at him, he does little to resist it, and Eva (of course) comes back to the flat to find them rolling around half naked on his bed. And Tomáš is struggling with his family. He is married to Marta, the sister of one of the factory's businessmen, who makes him feel sorely inferior. An extremely proud man, he reacts aggresively, rather smashing up any gifts that Marta's brother may give his sons than let them have a new toy. A typical alpha male, he also finds it very difficult to deal with his wife starting to go out and work, instead insisting that she stay at home with the children. As the film delves into the family lives of these men, it quickly becomes clear that they are deeply useless in themselves, and this is the reason for their failure, rather than the cruel coincidences that they believe are to blame. They never recognise their own ineffectiveness. Tomáš asks Vinco, "Why did she leave me?" Vinco replies, "You did it all yourself."

It is this pride that is their downfall. They are too proud to get down to honest work, thus their resorting to such impractical plans. They dream of a 'city of sun', wishing for an easy way out, rather than making an effort to seek real work. By sacrificing their pride, they would be able to go back to work at the factory under the new owners. But of course this is out of the question for them. This situation is rather a vicious circle, as the worse off they are, the greater their pride, but the greater the pride, the more they hinder themselves. Furthermore, it seems that it is those who relinquish their pride that get what they need. Milan's ex-wife Vilma is working for a phone sex line, giving up some of her dignity, but making money. When the other three men come to try and take Tomáš to the hospital after he has injured himself badly in a violent rage, they only succeed in entering by kneeling down in front of his door. At the end of the film, Vinco and Tomáš only make up after having fought about the fact that Vinco was on the brink of sleeping with Marta when Vinco gives up his pride and comes to help planting the flowers that form Tomáš's new work.

And alongside this, what they value most highly is solidarity, as demonstrated by Tomáš's refusal to participate in the seizing of their friends' property. Also by the taxi driver who helps Tomáš chase the stolen van - "I saw everything. Let's go after him, get in." This insistance on solidarity though doesn't help them particularly much. They would rather uphold it than take real action to find work.

It is only when things get to their very worst that they are forced to let go of these ideals. Beggars can't be chosers. Finding everything collapsed around them finally forces them to take the action required to fix their lives. There is no real evidence of any flash of inspiration in them, however. They just start working again because they are forced to by having nothing left to try.

This tragic comedy is a portrayal of personal ineffectiveness. And there are are many highly amusing moments in the film, when their ineptitude is so ridiculous. However, there is not a great build up of suspense, from the pressure of which the characters might be taught something. Rather is it a slippery descent into the bottom of the barrel.only once is there any reflection on their situation: Karel saying to his wife, "Quality sex is the only joy a poor man can afford." And these characters, though sympathetic, for the most part fit into familiar moulds. They and the situation demonstrate little that is very new. What is fresh about the film is the collection of ironic comic moments, but they are not tied together by a central fabric that is strong enough. The film is quite similar to the British social comedy of 1997, The Full Monty (Do naha!),though in that film, the characters are much more willing to shed their pride ( after all, they are shedding their clothes in order to make money). And unlike the sunshine foursome, they work hard and succeed at their hairball scheme, and learn lessons about work and themselves in the process. The film is generally quite pleasing. The jokes and characters amuse. However, the film does not have a sufficient driving force, and the characters suffer from this too and do not learn a proper lesson.

It is a little bit as though the authors of the film, by looking at this male foursome, highlighted the problem of "eternal childhood" - of men who would dearly like to forever remain children without responsibility -- they are traumatised by the fact that in adulthood, they cannot cope with relationships to women or the outside world in general. In the end, they feel best absurdly jumping up and down on trampolines at a children's playground.

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