In its time Czechoslovakia produced many enjoyable films in various genres, such as Milos Forman's The Firemen's Ball (1967), Jirí Trnka's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1959) and Oldrich Lipský's Lemonade Joe (1964). I have to admit I have not seen very many films that were produced after the country broke into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but besides Jan Hrebejk's Cosy Dens (1999), Martin Sulík's The City of the Sun is also an enjoyable modern film from the area.
The plot premise is strongly reminiscent of other working class drama-comedies like The Full Monty (1997) and Mondays in the Sun (2002). When a factory in the city of Ostrava lays off a large number of workers, many of the men are left without a livelihood. Four of the jobless workers decide start a moving truck business and buy an expensive used truck, but the circumstances seem to be against them in every possible way, especially after their crucially important truck gets stolen in the middle of a day.
In addition to the emotional strain of being jobless, the four men also have to deal with various familial issues. The arguable leader of the group Milan (Igor Bares) is a single father of a troubled teenager, the oldest man Karel (Oldrich Navrátil) has several young kids, a younger family man Tomás (Ivan Martinka) doesn't like the idea of his wife getting a job and the youngest lad of the group Vinco (Lubo Kostelný) is still free of fatherhood and keen on winning his ex-girlfriend's heart back.
Like the best tragicomedies, The City of the Sun doesn't go for crass laugh-out-loud humour, but finds charm in more slow burning and melancholic kind of mundane absurdities. The family relationships become a theme more important than the first-hand unemployment, as does the portrayal of the men's friendship. Especially the unstable Tomás finds it hard to cope with the situation and get along with the gruff boss Milan, while Karel and Vinco are able to maintain a more positive attitude. All of the core four actors do great jobs, especially the Heath Ledgeresque Ivan Martinka as Tomás, but I also enjoyed the performances of many supporting actors like Lucie Zácková as Vinco's ex-girlfriend Eva and Csongor Kassai as her new mousy boyfriend Emil.
The run-down industrial city atmosphere is fittingly served by the rocking, sometimes bluesy tunes on the score and certain kind of down-to-earth cinematography throughout the movie. Despite the adversities, there are moments of happiness here and there, be it a joyous go-kart race or the childlike trampoline moment of the final scene. One thing I'm not sure I liked was the use of shaky camera and quick zooms in some establishing shots and whatnot. On the other hand, they add some action to the otherwise cozy mood and aren't really used that excessively anyway.
In the genre of "unemployment movies" The City of the Sun fits in effortlessly. Thematic comparisons can be drawn to the aforementioned The Full Monty and Mondays in the Sun, but also to Aki Kaurismäki's Drifting Clouds (1996) and even Vittorio De Sica's neorealist classic Bicycle Thieves (1948), but ultimately the movie stands on its own feet instead of being a derivative pastiche of past successes. Recommended to anyone looking for pleasant little discoveries in Czech and Slovakian cinema.
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