People do come together in Slovak actor-turned-helmer Juraj Nvota’s “Music,” though mostly the ones who are not married — or at least, not married to each other. Picaresque tale of sax and sex in ’70s Czechoslovakia oozes charm and provides countless chuckles. However, if its bittersweet undertow had been better developed, the film could have taken on a stronger emotional resonance that might have helped it cross borders as a more upbeat, Slovak version of “Brassed Off.” Since mid-April release at home, “Music” has become the biggest local hit in eight years.
Everyman Martin (Lubos Kostelny) works in a water-purification plant and not-so-secretly practices the saxophone at work during breaks and off hours. Frowned upon in communist times, jazz is his favorite type of music. (“How do you spell jazz?” asks a colleague who has to write a report on Martin’s “suspicious” activities.)
Short on cash, Martin and his pregnant wife, Marfa (Tana Pauhofova, also in Nvota’s “Cruel Joys”), are forced to live with her cantankerous parents (Marian Geisberg, Jana Olhova). Presence there of Marfa’s brother Zofre (Marek Geisberg), a guitar-playing bum, makes space even more of a problem at home, though his musical skills do come in handy when he and Martin form a trio with Ivan (Jan Budar).
Apart from a gently subversive twist toward the end, all the female characters in “Music” are seen strictly from a male (read: lusty) perspective. Even when Martin starts canoodling with free-spirited teen Anca (Dorota Nvotova, the helmer’s adopted daughter), and takes less interest in pregnant Marfa, this is shown as a positive development.
However, the pic’s funniest sequence involves no bed antics. Martin and Ivan show up in gold-colored glitter jackets at an audition before a Communist Party commission that could give them the status of “trustworthy,” allowing them to perform in the West. Combo of physical and character comedy is the film’s highlight.
Though the male protags’ dream seems to be to escape the confines of communism, film also has an ostalgia feel a la “Good Bye Lenin!” Nvota originally became famous as an actor in Dusan Hanak’s 1977 “Rosy Dreams,” the first Czechoslovak movie in communist times to deal with gypsies.
While the comedy is winning throughout, and all actors are in their element, the story’s bittersweet and tragicomic sides are often submerged by the laughs. The female roles especially suffer in this respect.
Lensing by Alexander Surkala evokes the period perfectly, though both the handheld camerawork during a Hungarian wedding and some brief, golden-hued fantasy sequences feel incongruous. Other tech credits are pro, with the music running the gamut from popular folk songs to local rock and pop evergreens — and even communist cantatas.
Novella’s original author, Slovak scribe Peter Pistanek, has a droll bit as a Party cop.