Tigers in the City is ostensibly an urban love story mixed with an international crime thriller. As strange as that mix sounds, the actual film is even stranger.
The main story follows a hotshot young prosecutor in Bratislava, Rudolf Jazvec. This gentleman at the age of thirty has not lost his virginity, much to the amusement of his randy bon vivant zoo keeper friend Hyena who has been boffing Rudolf's oversexed younger sister and fitness instructor Jane for the last five years. Rudolf is in love with a radio host on Bratislava's culture channel, Marina Kuznikova.
Kristina Tothova and Diana Morova in an intimate moment,
no it's not a lesbian love story: Tóthová plays a man
Unknown to anyone except the viewer, Marina's Russian husband Ivan (the boxing instructor of Jane) has been brought in by Marina's mafioso brother to eliminate a troublesome state prosecutor. Rudolf.
I'll stop here before giving away much of the complicated plot, as some people insist on not know anything about a movie's story before seeing it. Plot really doesn't matter in Tigers in the City, how it happens is far more important than what happens. There is drunkeness, there are failed hits, there is mistaken identity, there are endless zoo animals, there is a waitress who dreams of being a stewardess, there are water bicycles and speedboats, there are homing pigeons, there is happy gay love. The invention never stops.
But perhaps most extraordinary is that Rudolf is played by a very slight and very young actress, Kristína Tóthová. Her voice is dubbed over with a peculiarly resonant and gruff mail voice (Tomas Mastalir). But when she's standing around in her undershirt, you can clearly see Tothova's small but shapely breasts. There is no attempt to bandage wrap them to her chest.
The trailer gives a taste of strangeness of Tigre v Meste
There are a few other anachronisms. Without being a corrupt prosecutor, there is no way Rudolf at thirty years of age would be living in the 120 m2 palatial renovated apartment in the center of Bratislava s/he enjoys in Tigers in the City. On the other hand, even Truffaut and Rohmer gave their petit bourgeous better digs than are likely. Why not give life a bit of glamour?
On the side of realism, we really do get inside the upside down pyramid of Slovak radio and have a good look at the grubby smoke filled offices and endless corridors. I've never seen the zoo in Bratislava and am tempted to visit now (do we really have so many white tigers?). It's quite delightful how filmmaker Juraj Krasnohorsky took the trouble to show us so much of Bratislava. We visit the river, we visit the ponds, we visit the center, we even see the then brand new Eurovea. All of it dynamically shot by French cinemotographer André Bonzel. For those of us who like our little city on the Danube, Bonzel reminds us why.
Though walking us through a morality play, Krasnohorsky does not neglect any opportunity to delight our eyes and inspire the curiousity of visitors.
The only film with which I can compare Tigers in the City is Jean Piere Jeunet's Amélie. Both films share the same kind of narration and a quality of not being of this world but in it. Amélie is the superior film but that sophomere director Krasnohorsky can get close is a great achievement anywhere, all the more so in Bratislava's straitened film circumstances.
I did wonder throughout the film what the point of casting a woman as a man was. That is the point: it keeps you wondering and off-balance, aware that you are watching a construct. I think Krasnohorsky and screenwriter Lucia Siposova wanted to avoid letting people off the hook to sit back and zone out to a crime thriller or a love drama. Watching Tóthová fake being a man constantly reminds you to pay attention and that things are not always what they seem. It's a very clever cinematic variant on Berthold Brecht's alienation effect.
The less exciting alternative would be that it's just a very eighties look at androgyny (David Bowie, Liquid Sky): it's not your sexual organs that matter but your soul. Actually sorry guys/girls - as those who tried to cross those boundaries back then could tell you - yes the plumbing does matter. Love is about two thirds chemistry and one third soul.
Quite a bit of care went into the details. The hit man is played by international Czech star Karel Dobry, which gives Tigers in the City some star quality and probably opened some doors. Dobry puts in a decent effort as the reluctant assassin. None of the other actors offends through incompetence and many impress, from the peculiar Tothová through Diana Mórová who plays the melodramatic radio host. By the end of the film, you are really convinced she is a completely superficial airhead. Lubo Bukovy as the homosexual friend infatuated with his straight celibate friend even manages to come off as more touching than creepy. Milan Ondrik as Hyena lets down the ensemble a bit with occasional clumsy overacting.
Pretty Ivica Slávikova steals her scenes as the tough talking, sex kitten fitness instructor sister. Not only is she first class eye candy, but she has a physical charisma relatively uncommon here, vibrant as an Italian or a Russian film star. This is her first real role. Look out for her next films.
If you would like to see Bratislava from the inside and/or amuse yourself with a delectable modern morality play, Tigers in the City is light, yet filling entertainment. All but the most dour and least imaginative will leave the theater with a smile on the face and questions in the heart.