Four Suns: Sundance Film Review

An undistinguished drama with unremarkable characters who just can’t get what they want.

PARK CITY — Czech filmmaker Bohdan Slama returns to the international fest circuit with the Sundance world premiere of Four Suns, a rather tedious, forlorn domestic drama. Festivals and specialty distributors may take note, but there’s unlikely to be any major rush to acclaim.

Jara (Jaroslav Plesl) just can’t seem to get things right – his teenage son Vena (Marek Sacha) is on the road to becoming a pot-smoking juvenile delinquent, his wife Jana (Anna Geislerova) doesn't want to sleep with him anymore and his eccentric best friend Karel (Karel Roden) seems to be getting stranger and more erratic by the day. Maybe things are unraveling because Jara’s an immature, irresponsible loser himself, or maybe he just can’t catch a break.

Hardheaded stoicism keeps most of these characters stuck in their ruts, even at the risk of catastrophe. Only Vena seems to be moving forward and he’s going nowhere fast, skipping school, drinking booze and doing drugs.

After he loses his job because of his bad attitude and pot smoking at work, Jara hits on the idea of going into business with Karel, who’s something of a modern mystic attuned to the enigmas of the natural world and has an affinity for helping people with their spiritual issues. But Karel is really only interested in trying to find his mystical – and perhaps imaginary – “master,” leading Jara on a potentially disastrous roadtrip to the middle of nowhere.

Fans of Eastern European naturalism may find enough to favor in Four Suns (an obscure reference to Karel’s spiritual journey) to remain entertained, but overall the characters seem so mired in their own fates as the plot plods along that it’s sometimes a challenge to imagine that any sort of revelation can free them from their self-destructive tendencies.

Slama has a clear talent for eliciting empathy for his characters, but rarely establishes sufficient stakes to fully engage viewers. The performances are fairly aimless, even if the film’s offhand approach reassures with a fairly conventional visual style, despite an over-reliance on handheld sequences. Technical aspects are acceptable if not particularly distinguished otherwise.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Production company: Negativ Films
Cast: Jaroslav Plesl, Anna Geislerova, Marek Sacha, Anna Bubenikova, Karel Roden
Director-screenwriter: Bohdan Slama   
Producers: Pavel Strnad, Petr Oukropec
Director of photography: Divis Marek
Production designer: Jan Vlasak
Costumes: Zuzana Krejzkova
Music: Vypsana Fixa
Editor: Jan Danhel
Sales: Films Boutique
No rating, 102 minutes