Centring on one long, hot summer in the lives of two Bratislavan youths as they fall in and out of love, The Sun in a Net (1963) is a sensual, intimate tale of young romance and family dysfunction, set against the backdrop of an eclipse. A triumph of the Czech New Wave, Štefan Uher’s second feature is as formally innovative and thematically provocative as you would expect from the movement, and Uher’s close analysis of the hard realities of everyday socialism under the regime are cleverly disguised under poetic metaphor. It remains a gem of Slovak cinema, comparable even with Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953).
A teenage photographer, nicknamed Fayolo (Marián Bielik), and his young girlfriend Bela (Jana Beláková) pass the summer sunbathing to the sounds of the radio and indulging in shallow, existential chatter. When their relationship runs into trouble, Fayolo joins a summer work collective and pursues a relationship with fellow student volunteer Jana (Oľga Šalagová), whilst still lusting after Bela. While Fayolo sweats and works the hay in the beating sun, Bela cosies up to the lecherous Peto (Lubo Roman), going as far as to read him Fayolo’s letters.
These casual yet intense relationships – explored with an unusually light sexual frankness – play out against much heavier familial situations, such as that of Bela’s blind mother (the cause of whose blindness, we find out, offers a complex interpretation of the role of women). Uher offers us a rich fabric of symbols to interpret; from the individualistic images of hands which Fayolo is so obsessed with photographing, to the suggestiveness of nets, photographic frames, and that associated with seeing and blindness – the impossibility of catching the untenable, whether in love or ideology, is perhaps suggested by the title. On-location shooting, amateur actors, and naturalistic soundscapes all reflect Uher’s neorealist influences.
An incredible soundtrack by Ilja Zeljenka uses real sounds to imitate the sounds of the television aerials and transistor radios that punctuate The Sun in a Net. An unusual opening credit sequence develops into the jarring sounds of a child’s discordant recorder, and the drifting hauntological sounds of rock ‘n’ roll. Supplementary material on this new high-definition restoration of the film include a handy Second Run DVD booklet, with a long and fascinating essay by Peter Hames, author of The Czechoslovak New Wave (second edition, 2005) amongst others, plus an appreciatory interview with Berberian Sound Studio director Peter Strickland.
Available for the first time on DVD in English-speaking territories, Uher’s The Sun in a Net more than deserves to be rediscovered. The film can be easily situated amongst the formal innovation of early François Truffaut and other formalist innovators of the European New Wave. What’s more, it’s youthful, fresh and rewarding, with all the sounds and sensuality of those seemingly endless hot summers of adolescence.