In the tradition of Jiri Menzel’s “My Sweet Little Village,” but utterly contemporary in its satire, sly rural comedy “Men in Rut” draws its humor from the clash of small and big worlds as politicians in a remote burg — so remote, in fact, that the road ends there — try to realize their dream of a new highway connecting them to Europe. After modest local biz in its late-summer 2009 release, this low-key charmer, the sophomore outing of Czech writer-helmer Robert Sedlacek, has commenced fest travel.
The South Moravian hamlet of Mourinov may not be on the map of Central Europe, but it’s home to Franta (Jaroslav Plesl), a national champion at enticing stags in rut. Longtime mayor Hanacek (Pavel Zednicek) and local bigwig Jarda (Jaromir Hanzlik) devise a European competition in this odd discipline in order to lure the jovial prime minister (Igor Bares) to the opening ceremony and lobby him with their plans.
Yet despite the village elders’ elaborate scheming, people and circumstances stubbornly refuse to fall in line with their conception of the festivities. Franta has an ongoing beef with the mayor over a carousel, Jarda’s wife, Pavla (Marta Vancurova), is slipping further into dementia, and one of Jarda’s building projects has uprooted an ancient cemetery.
As the hour nears for the game callers to blow their strange variety of horns, further problems ensue as the prime minister’s uptight aide (Jan Vagner) nixes the transvestite act slotted for the entertainment lineup and the PM displays an alarming partiality to the local slivovitz.
Although the title seems to promise salacious sexual shenanigans, there’s nothing of the sort. Pic’s central relationship involving shy Franta and stuttering barmaid Eva (Eva Vrbkova) epitomizes sweet. In fact, pic would be better served by the English title “The Mating Season,” which would match the alternate meaning of the Czech moniker.
As in his first feature, “Rules of Lies,” Sedlacek takes his time creating a depth of characterization for the main players that pays off in surprising ways. This helps mitigate the bad taste left by the cliched depiction of the transvestites as effete screamers.
Mixing relative newcomers with familiar faces, the ensemble performances hit the mark, with Bares obviously enjoying himself as the prime minister. Polished tech package does justice to the autumnal Czech countryside and its rich cornucopia of offerings.