Review: ‘The City of the Sun (or Working Class Heroes)’

A warm and winning ensembler from Slovak helmer Martin Sulik, "The City of the Sun" follows the ups and downs of four unemployed men and their volatile circles of friends and family in the blue collar Czech city of Ostrava. Possessed of the same quirky humor and palpable humanism as Sulik's 1995 fest fave "The Garden," though shorn of that film's mystical overtones in favor of an earthy and appealing pluckiness, pic will ride its best-of-fest Golden Kingfisher award at the Finale Pilsen to numerous fest dates, decent arthouse play and strong ancillary.

A correction was made to this review on June 28, 2005.

A warm and winning ensembler from Slovak helmer Martin Sulik, “The City of the Sun” follows the ups and downs of four unemployed men and their volatile circles of friends and family in the blue collar Czech city of Ostrava. Possessed of the same quirky humor and palpable humanism as Sulik’s 1995 fest fave “The Garden,” though shorn of that film’s mystical overtones in favor of an earthy and appealing pluckiness, pic will ride its best-of-fest Golden Kingfisher award at the Finale Pilsen to numerous fest dates, decent arthouse play and strong ancillary.

Think of Ostrava as the mid-1970s Pittsburgh of the Czech Republic, an ossified industrial center in the easternmost section of the country where unemployment hovers at the 30 percent mark. Following some labor-management unrest, unemployment hits home for buddies Karel (Oldrich Navratil), Tomas (Ivan Martinka), Vinco (Lubos Kostelny), and Milan (Igor Bares).

Refusing to take it lying down, the four men embark on a series of less-than-successful businesses, including a mobile repair shop in a van subsequently stolen from under Tomas’ nose, the liberation of icons from an abandoned rural church, and, most uncomfortable of all, repossession.

Meanwhile, their unpredictable and increasingly intertwining personal lives test the bonds of friendship. In the end, it’s a scrappy optimism that pulls them through the tough times.

Though pic is performed in a thick regional patois by talent chiefly from elsewhere in the country–which has caused some grumbling among local moviegoers–Western auds will neither know nor care about this homegrown subtlety. Seen in that light, perfs feel emotionally true across the board. What shines through in richly detailed script by Sulik and Marek Lescak is a fundamental and largely apolitical decency among the working class, leavened with such quirky situational humor as a tattooed pub denizen who does handstands on tables, an impromptu rendition of “Love Me Tender” in an empty church and the final shot of the four men and Milan’s rebellious son Bandy (Martin Juza) bouncing merrily on five trampolines in a park.

Tech package is pro, with action punctuated by thoughtful compositions of industrial decay courtesy long-time Sulik cameraman Martin Strba and tasty blues licks from guitarist Andrej Selon. Onscreen credits are presented in both Czech and Slovak, with literal translation of original title, “The State of the Sun,” a more accurate indication of multiple emotional levels on which pic works. “Some Secrets” helmer Alice Nellis has a walk-on as a medico.

The City of the Sun (or Working Class Heroes)

Czech Republic-Slovakia

Production

A Cinemart release (in the Czech Republic) of a Prvni verejnopravni production, in association with Titanic, Czech TV Ostrava, Cinemart. (International sales: Prvni verejnopravni, Prague.) Produced by Cestmir Kopecky. Directed by Martin Sulik. Screenplay, Marek Lescak, Sulik.

Crew

Camera (color), Martin Strba; editor, Jiri Brozek; music, Vladimir Godar; art director, Frantisek Liptak; costume designer, Katarina Holla; sound (Dolby Digital), Peter Mojzis; associate producers, Tomas Hoffman, Petr Zempliner, Ondrej Zach; assistant director, Jiri Kocirek. Reviewed at Finale Pilsen, Czech Republic, April 26, 2005. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Oldrich Navratil, Ivan Martinka, Lubos Kostelny, Igor Bares, Anna Conova, Petra Spalkova, Anna Siskova, Lucie Zackova, Martin Juza, Jan Vondracek, Csongor Kassai, Michaela Bokova, Frantisek Smehlik, Dominik Hajek, Allis Nellis. (Czech, Slovak dialogue.)
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