THE SUN IN A NET (Štefan Uher, 1962)

Voted by critics in the 1990s as one of the ten best films from the former Czechoslovakia, Slnko v sieti—alternately translated as The Sun in a Net or Sunshine Caught in a Net—derives from three short stories by Alfonz Bednár, which he himself adapted. Brilliantly directed by Štefan Uher (like Bednár, a Slovak), the film may be considered, depending on one’s point of view, as either an immediate antecedent of the Czech New Wave or, itself, the launch of the movement. Reflecting a loosening of the Communist grip on the country’s cultural and artistic expression, it departs from officially mandated “socialist realism,” both in its fluid, radical, associative style and its scathingly honest, unblinking social amd political content. Call it cinema’s first hurled hunk of spit of the gathering Czech New Wave.

The black-and-white film, consisting mostly of monotonous light grays, opens outdoors in a drab urban setting with abrasive sounds, including those of a screeching bird and demolishing equipment; cut from the same aural cloth, “Bullshit” is the first word we hear—spoken, aloud to himself, by student Oldrich “Fajolo” Fajták in response to what he hears said on the radio. Fajolo thus expresses his attitude towards the conformist, restrictive state in which he finds himself in the prime of his youth.

His utterance “Bullshit” also opposes state hypocrisy, which under penalty of official reprisals he must bend to, thereby becoming a hypocrite himself. Fajolo thus leaves his girlfriend Bela Blažejová to work in a summer “volunteer” farm camp; the tension achieved between the sheer, abundant beauty of the country and, essentially, the disdained forced labor accounts for striking passages. (One also takes in how poorly functioning the collectivized farm is—a strike at the heart of Soviet- and Soviet-satellite mythology.) During their separation, both Bela and Fajolo, moreover, couple with new partners.

This is a film ripe with surprising, inventive camera angles and dazzling imagery. Perhaps the centrifugal image—I confess: I wept—positions the camera to give the appearance that the sun itself has been caught in a fisherman’s wide net. The shattering effect, a commentary on the unnaturalness of repressive states, is cumulative; throughout the film there have been glimpses of people shot through “the net” and net-like structures. The entrapment of the sun is, of course, a metaphor for the entrapment of people; but more: it represents the light, enlightenment and freedom, obstructed by the state, from which human beings are being cut off.

Another theme pertains to the contagious nature of the lies of the state. Both a beclouded solar eclipse and a dropped water level, leaving behind only dry land, lead Bela and younger brother Milo to lie to their blind mother about these, presumably for the sake of the woman’s own delight and happiness.

Regrettably, the sure, tough poetry of this remarkable film is eventually defeated by an exposure of the material’s literary mechanics; but, until that relatively late point, how the film soars.

 

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