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I have viewed other user comments to this film, and appear to be in the minority. But if you like films about disturbed individuals, I suggest Errol Morris' MR DEATH instead.
A very disturbing glimpse into a ruined family. The commentators' opinions come at the same time as your own as they react to footage at the same time you see it. Some times they are insightful, other times just confused. Interestingly, the avant-garde film maker's comments are frequently the most insightful. Many things are not explained as a standard documentary would try to do. Perhaps the film makers were at a loss at what they had filmed when it was finished but that's not a drawback. You have to involve yourself with the mystery to really watch this film.
A word on the "disturbing" end, namely the son's visit to his sister and the drinking binge right before it. It's clear that the film maker didn't know that the son would consume two full bottles of wine (gifts from the film maker) before the trip to his sister. Filming it was part of the story. The break-in happens after the son (who is mentally retarded) starts to worry about his sister who lived with him all his life, but hasn't spoken to him for a while now that they live apart. The actual entry into the house is done by a neighbor of the sister and the first view of her filthy kitchen made me think that she had been deceased for a long time. The sister is first seen sleeping, oblivious to the noise in her house, as if dead. She is extremely paranoid and quite crazy. she refuses to talk about her father except for a last comment that says tons about the man.
A great film about the results of parents who smother the emotional growth of their children. The method of delivery, however, will not please many people.
The narration- comments that occur durring the film remind us of that. The family has their life, but part of that life is in the world in which they live.
Then, we seek the family today. We wonder what happened to that family that we watched and became interested. This is where we literally jump into the screen. The director meets the son depicted in the home movies. We see what has happened to the son, raising questions about the rest of the family. We seek the daughter. This is where the director Meade shows what kind of film this is. Instead of being a dispassioned reporter, he has involved himself in this family. When there are questions about the wellbeing of the sister, the director involves himself, and the audience via the camera, in finding the answer.
Does he take things too far? That is what each of us have to answer of ourselves. I guess it all depends on whether you can be compassionate with a camera in your hands. But, the audience should be greatful that they were taken on the journey.
It also raises another interesting question. While much of the film takes place in Hungary, there is nothing that says that it could not happen in New York, or California, or Kansas. What do our home movies tell about us. What have we done since we were children? Are there hints in anyone's childhood that says where they are going?
See the film, make your own judgements.
Three different perspectives about a series of remarkable old "home movies" that were discovered in a decrepit apartment in Hungary are provided by a filmmaker, a psychologist, and an author. Their vastly contrasting input provides the perfect framework for the astonishing footage that is the foundation of this film. The decision by the director Benjamin Meade to splice the comments of a panel of interviewees with disparate perspectives about a central subject reminded me of Errol Morris's great film "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control."
"Vakvagany" zig-zags through time, sampling the stolen family films, juxtaposing them with newly-filmed footage of the old movies' still-living participants, and interviews with three spirit guides who offer their take on lurid life with the family depicted in the old and new footage: crime novelist James Ellroy (of "L.A. Confidential" fame) , psychiatrist Dr. Roy Menninger and filmmaker Stan Brakhage.
The vintage films focus on life with the Locsei family, a Hungarian couple fond of filming one another and their eventual, ill-fated offspring.
The setting for the `found' film is demolished, post-World War II Europe (much of the footage depicts damage done to cities during the war).
The usual family moments are captured in the old family films, such as giving the new baby in the house a bath.
But the camera lingers lasciviously long on naked son Erno, a cause for concern for `expert witness,' Dr. Roy Menninger, who seems increasingly to be wincing as the film (and the old family footage) unfolds. There are moments in Vakvagany - old and new - that are apt to make virtually any viewer, even the most jaded, wince, as well.
Benjamin Meade's "Vakvagany" (or, variously, "Dead End") is eighty-plus minutes of very strange cinema. Love it or hate it, it is something new, and it feels dangerous and important.
Meade has said he became enthralled with the vintage home movies and their potentially sinister subject matter: in particular, father Locsei's never clearly defined role in allegedly `helping' the European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. The form this `help' takes is sufficiently vague to leave room for some very dark deductions regarding what exactly Papa Locsei does for a living that could be construed as `help' for potential Nazi victims.
Director Benjamin Meade lets the viewer, and his three `experts,' attempt to decide (You know you're along for a strange, strange ride when noir novelist James Ellroy, notorious for his wild stage presence and book readings, tends toward the most mundane explanations for some very, very strange behavior.)
The Alloy Orchestra, famed for its wonderful scores for vintage silent films, provides a haunting, beautiful soundtrack for "Vakvagany."
While a sometimes disturbing view, Meade's film is a rewarding ride that can't be forgotten.
My comments here roughly reflect what I got out of the movie: that our home movies indeed turn us into actors, that we sometimes present ourselves to the viewer in a different light and that, try as we may, our true nature still could shine through. And after the filming is done, we need to be able to take responsibility for our actions and our treatment of our family and to account for what we have produced (in this case, the Locsei "children"). While the home movie is a snapshot in time, it also is a case study of the inner workings of the family unit. I believe Meade is telling the viewer that we have a responsibility to face what our family has molded us into as adults, no matter how horrible. Amid all of the criticism "Vakvagany" has received, Meade should know that he has at least one fan who recognizes his film for what it is: a trailblazing look at humanity.
The filmmaker puts together a production crew and returns to Hungary to track down the two siblings in an attempt to answer questions about the film content. Both the son and daughter are found living chaotic and separate lives of drunkenness and mental illness.
With new film material in hand, the filmmaker returns to the United States and invites three professionals (James Ellroy, Stan Brakhage, and Dr. Roy Menninger) to experience the old and the new material and offer their own interpretations.