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6:3, avagy játszd újra Tutti (1999)
evokes great Hungarian soccer triumph in dark days of communism
Having grown up in 1950's Hungary (I left during the '56 Revolution), I remember very clearly the great 6:3 win against England, the first time the English national team had ever lost on their home field. I also recall the political period, though I was a child, with my parents drawing dark curtains while we huddled over the big radio, trying to listen to Radio Free Europe.
This film manages to capture beautifully both the excitement about the Hungarian soccer team and the drabness of the economic and political situation. The story begins in contemporary Hungary when a garbage man is asked by an attractive young woman to clean out a house she inherited from her grandfather. To his amazement, the room is filled with soccer memorabilia, featuring that grand national team of the 50s, starring Puskas, Kocsis, and his (and my) favorite--Hidegkuti. When he finds Hidegkuti's game jersey, he puts it on and literally swoons back in time to the day of the 6:3 match. It is also the day of his birth, and what he knows--the final score of the match--is combined with what he does not know--his birth mother's identity.
The film then stays in the past, in turn hilarious and somber, as Tutti runs from radio to radio to listen and anticipate the historic moments of the game. In the process, he makes friends and enemies, indirectly exposing the meanness and stupidity of the Rakosi communist period, especially its informers. In a touching moment, Tutti proudly begins to sing the Hungarian National Anthem, not realizing that national pride during this period has been forced underground. Without missing a beat, Tutti switches into the Internationale, the unifying song for the proletariat. At times surrealistic and always entertaining, 6:3 is a wonderful trip into the Hungarian past where one would hardly want to visit much less live!
artistic, emotional, visual, aural appeal
This experimental film, also identified as a documentary, needs all of its 66 minutes as well as the time it takes for the credits to run to establish some coherence. Working backwards from the credits, the audience will understand that this is an Arab + Israeli collaboration, that it is funded by various sources from the University of Michigan, that among the many walls it depicts, the Apartheid Wall is also included, and many other tidbits of information that help clarify the film's point of view. Specifically, it is anti-war, anti-occupation, and ultimately anti-Israel, its imagery carefully connecting all who in the film's view are or have been oppressed, from South Africa to "Palestine." Though independent of the image, the sound strategy works with it, alternating and blending readings and pronouncements in English, Hebrew, and Arabic that generally address the plight of children and the physical destruction wrought by war.
When viewers approach this film (as all but reviewers or students will), only once and from the beginning, they will access the point of view but search in vain for an intellectual argument in defense of that point of view. The visual and aural presentation of filmic material here is not designed to "document" an argument. Moving slowly from image to black to image again, the film does, in fact, submit a dazzling variety of cinematic manipulations for a viewer's consideration: flashes, cut-outs, animation, 3D projections, drawings, and lettering. There are moments when the point of view is manifest, as when the painting or poster of Arafat gazes from the wall or when the word "Palestine" is clearly printed in Roman lettering within many words scrawled in Arabic. Also, the recurring presence of lovely and mysterious folded paper birds is eventually explained by one of the readings. But such moments of appeal to the intellect are occasional. For most of its minutes, the film's appeal is non-verbal and emotional, documenting only how the filmmaker feels, not how or why she believes in the cause. How one feels is unassailable and thus not debatable, but a film that offers no argument is self expression, more "fiction" than "documentary," experimental or not. If categorized as an installation project, it could play continuously in an art gallery or museum, offering often poetic images of walls, both constructed and natural, and in such a space, be very much appreciated for its art and deep convictions.
droll, irreverent film about people who take themselves very seriously
Calling this playful and hilarious film "Panic" is the first of many entertaining misdirections offered by writer/director Attila Till. Using the conventions of the mystery, the horror, the romance, the domestic drama, and a half dozen other genres, he concocts a consistently amusing film. That one cannot help being drawn into the melodramatic concerns of the characters, no matter how obvious and cartoon-like, is also part of Till's joke. Even as he (and his audience) laughs at the dramatics, he also mocks film-making (and himself) at its ability to manipulate the audience.
The title's obvious reference is to the condition of its main character, the beautiful Agi Gubik, a successful executive who has checked herself into an exclusive therapy spa to cope with her panic attacks. Ordered about by the strident but cheerful therapist (Judit Schell), she suffers through wacky sessions, from Western Siberian Spitting Therapy to American Note Reading Sessions. But her bizarre encounters are more than matched by the insanity outside the spa. Her bored mother (veteran actress Ildiko Bansagi) sets false fire alarms that lead to coffee and cake with the firemen. Her brother is convinced that people are being inhabited by aliens vulnerable only to water. Two gay cops struggle to reconcile their generational differences as they train for the SWAT competition in Orlando. The family friend predicts deaths in the family and shops for used sex toys, while her daughter anxiously tests her baby's breathing with a tissue on a regular basis. In short, people are in a panic, in and out of asylums, but not about international relations, global warming, energy shortages, or financial collapse. Rather, they are paralyzed by fears of the most personal, the most mundane, and the most ordinary concerns as they live soap opera lives.
Till's editing creates the most wonderful and witty juxtapositions, exploiting the alternate narration strategy to its fullest, sometimes cutting not only from scene to scene but also from genre to genre and between fantasy and reality, with scenes just seconds in length complete with their corresponding and appropriate soundtrack and musical background. Rather than confusing, this pace is exhilarating and absolutely coherent. His transitions are equally clever, spinning from a barrel bottom to a mixer, from brick to a painting above a bed, from a tilted photo to a slanted fantasy representing a panic attack. On a practical level, given our financially challenged time, he inserts himself in a cameo, a la Hitchcock, as an MC pitching a product in a mall and suggests a new career for unemployed writers with the role of Alex, who is hired by a man to do the actual breaking up with a girl friend. As the ex-lover explains, in a crisis, one needs a professional to speak for you.
This is a truly droll film, lovingly teasing all of us who have been deceived by the magic of film to live our lives as if they being projected on the silver screen for an audience's approval.
a murder mystery and the gypsy lieutenant
The name of the murder victim found with a candle in his mouth suggests that he is an outsider in Hungary. The lead detective, Lieutenant Sapphire, is a gypsy, who despite being adopted and raised by "regular" Hungarians, has his nose rubbed in his minority status every day. His sidekick is Jewish, the prime suspect is another gypsy sleeping with the murdered man's wife, and for good measure, there are despised Romanians among the petty criminals and potential witnesses. These are some of the principals in Gabor Detter's brilliant examination of a society brimming with ethnic resentments, told within the conventions of a police procedural.
The murder mystery, however, is no mere excuse for some sort of sociological polemic about the tensions in Hungarian post-communist society. Rather, whatever we learn about the frictions between outsiders and "real" Hungarians as embodied by Kocsis, the precinct captain, emerges naturally from the investigation: the interrogations, the footwork, and the speculation among the cops, witnesses, and suspects. The lanky Lt. Sapphire, with his hangdog face, is as tough as any hardboiled American detective , but as he is also an Eastern European, he is emotional, loving, wracked by self-doubt, and in love with his vegetarian wife Eva, whose dirty talk is in English and who walks around in the natural as often as she can. And if the case were not complicated enough, why not shelter the teenage gypsy girl who had been sold by her own sister to the murdered man and is the subject of an intense search? Ultimately, "Tableau" is an exhilarating ride for all of its 120 minutes, containing a surprising amount of spoken English, an incredible number of scatological references, significant nudity, and terse, exciting dialogue that is translated into wonderfully idiomatic English subtitles. Also impressive is Detter's visual strategy between scenes, where he puts an extra jump into jump cuts by moving characters magically, an approach that pays off in a beautifully rendered final shot. As for his cinematography, look for a scene in which silvery, rustling tree branches become part of the interior space of the police car where Lt. Sapphire talks with teenage gypsy girl. The image is so perfectly integrated with mood, story and character that it will bring tears to your eyes!
Elephant Graveyard (2008)
Tarzan, in old age; Johnny Weissmuller's final days
Avi Belkin's "Elephant Graveyard" is a tour de force, an English language film made in Israel, depicting an American icon.
The fictional film imagines the final days of Johnny Weissmuller, the original Tarzan, inter-cutting black and white scenes from his first film with color scenes of his days at the hospital. The film is elegiac rather than sad, filled with ironic contrasts. It is striking, for example, that fewer words are spoken in the contemporary scenes than in the inter-cut scenes, though those early films still skirted the days of the silent era! Equally striking is the difference between the slow shuffle of the aged film star and his flights in the jungle. And at the end, Weissmuller is alone, no chimp, no Jane, no jungle, not even bad guys, just age. The actor playing Weissmuller achieves a dignity and solemnity that denies pity and makes his decision believable. Though the film ends in silence, what resonates at the end is the defiant, curling yell of the Tarzan, prince of the jungle. In an interesting comment on our verbal society, sound dominates words.
Speaking of words, the Israeli filmmaker is quite successful at evoking American English, with a few notable exceptions. The rhythms of the narrator meant to recreate the typical news broadcaster is not quite native, a person would "wander" in the jungle, not "wonder," and the contraction for "you are" is "you're," not "your." Of course, given the gradual erosion of correctness in the United States, the errors may argue for the filmmaker's even greater familiarity with American culture!
while the captain eats lunch
This short film from Hungary uses an inventive strategy to dramatize the theme of personal indifference to the suffering of others.
Daniel Erdelyi's approach is to fill the 4 minute "411-Z" with action. While one of the characters remains blind to the drama around him, another works furiously to help. Unfortunately, it is the captain, the person in charge, who sets the ship's till on automatic and leaves the pilothouse to warm and eat his soup, and it is a mere sailor who notices a body and then a survivor in the waters. The sailor runs from aft to fore to engage the attention of his captain, but given the length of the ship and the time it takes to navigate it, the sight of the people in the river is momentarily lost, and the captain fails to act. The sailor's continued attempt to save the swimmer, the captain's total self-absorption, and the reality of a long ship that presents different perspectives is a wonderful metaphor for the inaction of leaders who steer the ships of state. Erdelyi establishes this picture of passivity in "411-Z" not by imitating it but by denying it with narrative and action.
Interestingly, another short from Hungary, the award winning "Turelem" or "With a Little Patience," addresses the same theme but approaches it very differently. They both worth seeing!
the drab office, the enormity of the view outside
This short film from Hungary addresses the theme of personal indifference to the drama of others suffering in an unusual way. Director Laszlo Nemes Jeles risks extreme close ups and soft focus, refuses action, and limits movement, making "Patience" (the festival title is "With A Little Patence") a rather daring approach to the topic.
The film offers an epigram from T.S. Eliot about neither seeing nor hearing, but the appropriate thematic guidelines for this film are Breughel's "Fall of Icarus" and W. H. Auden's discussion of the painting in "Musee des Beaux Arts." In short, those in the paintingthe plowman, the shepherd, and the people aboard the sailing ship--continue with their lives as the unfortunate youth's white legs disappear into the Aegean. So too, the buttoned clerk in "Patience" works through her routine, relieving her boredom with the broach she slips out of a breast pocket, and in a stunning finale, closes her window to a scene beyond her office that is horrific not for what it depicts but for what we know it tells us about historical events.
There is much to admire in the concept and technique of this award winning film that was also nominated for the Golden Lion at Cannes in 2008. The sound is wonderfully evocative, combining ambient office noise with an unidentifiable but elegiac aria and the incessant click-clack of the many typewriters that is like the initial appearance of a toothache; we are too aware of it though it has not yet become painful. The closed yet expressive face of the clerk is recaptured in the feminine figure contained within the military cut of her shirt, a subtle connection to the scene outside the busy office. And yet, the long set up of the drab office, the repetitive activities, and the too dark interior are perhaps too great a price to pay for the brilliant and stunning outdoor scene and the final shot of the closed windows that look like prison bars.
Dead End (2006)
All the world's a stage--and someone is directing
Dror Sabo, director of No Exit, has described his film as a comment on Israeli society that tries to divert itself from its painful daily reality by turning to daily "Reality Shows." In fact, though the film does condemn cultures that can be manipulated by shrewd entrepreneurs to live their lives through broadcast programs, its satire is directed at the men and women of the TV industry, particularly the "reality" segment. The theater audience is also targeted. We might think we are in on the joke, but in fact we are part of the jokethe beautiful people and melodramatic moments seduce us into enjoying the essentially corrupt world depicted in No Exit.
The story begins when the creator of a reality show in need of fresh ideas cynically co-opts the work of a documentary filmmaker, his former student. Promising funds, he convinces Yehuda to merge his film about the rehabilitation of a blind soldier into the reality show "Choice of Heart," and to do so without revealing to the 10 beautiful contestants that the man wooing them is blind. Once Yehuda accepts the offer to direct the reality show, his downward spiral begins. The system succeeds via fakery, dishonesty, and manipulation, and Yehuda becomes a willing practitioner of these dark arts. The pacifist subject of his documentary agrees to be turned into a war hero and to play along with the blindness swindle. Yael, his therapist and Yehuda's girl friend, is pulled in as well. And presiding above it all is the snake in the Garden, the grand manipulator, Zachy, the creator of the show. Not that anyone else is pure. Becky Romano, one of the 10 girls in the show, is a master contriver herself, and the other girls who are chosen shed previous lovers and ideals without hesitation, ready to marry the blind man if they "win."
But the film deals with the important ethical issues about power, truth, and fidelity with a sharp and entertaining satire. As most successful commercial television, No Exit attracts as it repels, with its beautiful, sexy women, melodramatic twists of the plot, self-centered yet larger than life characters, and grand gestures. As it condemns voyeurism, it makes us all into voyeurs, pulling us into a guilty enjoyment of the spectacle even as we condemn the shenanigans of amoral individuals. Sabo, however, is always in control of his material. His framing visually emphasizes the theme with rectangular and multiple screens, windows, and openings, reminding us constantly that we are watching a film. Although he gives Zachy, the grand stage manager, a successful end to his show, Sabo clearly condemns the manipulative industry and the society that allows itself to be suckered by it. And if there is an exit in this hell of corrupt people, he sits at the gateway to the lot---Michal, the only Orthodox character in the film whose digital recordings see and hear all and whose purity actually makes some of the character aware of their shortcomings.
Iszka utazása (2007)
more than one harrowing journey
A Hungarian submission to the 2008 Syracuse International Film and Video Festival, Iszka's Journey (the sz is pronounced like the s in Sam) takes place in Romania. The title character and her family appear to be part of the significant Hungarian minority living amid poverty and prejudice in Romania. Under Ceausescu's rule, the plight of this group was such that many sought refuge across the border in Hungary, a rare instance of people escaping to a Communist country! Iszka's family members speak Hungarian with each other, and the personnel at the orphanage where Iszka finds temporary haven also manage to communicate in that language, but everyone else speaks Romanian or is bilingual.
This gritty, naturalistic film offers brief moments of calm amidst seas of cold, suffering and exploitation. Fourteen-year old Iszka, bundled in odds and ends, scavenges for scrap metal, but is cheated by the buyer and robbed of the earnings by drunken parents. Accompanied by an ill younger sister, the teen runs away to an orphanage where we first realize that the urchin is actually a female. Our sympathies are all with her as she tries to get well and form friendships at the institute, prepared to accept a day of food and warmth as small triumphs. She returns when her mother comes to claim her, but having formed a friendship with a boy, she leaves again, saying goodbye to her ill sister. It appears that her journey with the boy into the green countryside and springtime is about to begin, but the story takes an abrupt turn when she hitches a ride with two men to the train station to join her travel partner. Though they treat her gently, they bundle her aboard a derelict looking ship.
This sudden change in the story suggests that the plot is driven by the underlying "real" events that is the basis for the film rather than by fiction. In fact, the film has a documentary feel, with its minimal dialogue, extreme close-ups, and episodic movement. Iszka, somehow still naïve and cheerful, finds herself aboard ship, in the company of other young women clearly marked for prostitution in foreign lands. On this ship of fools, the young women are jammed uncomfortably in the hold, smoking and telling each other their fantasies of finding work in other lands. But their knowing looks and sexual jokes suggest they are clearly aware of their upcoming roles. Iszka wanders about the ship and sees enough to open her eyes wide to her situation. The ship sails on, but Iszka's freckled, nosy face and jutting little chin reveal enough about her character and determination to make us believe that if anyone can return from this journey, she can.
Nuzhat al-Fuad (2006)
a brilliant tour de force about art and life
In Nuzhat al-Fuad, Judd Ne'eman has managed the impossible. While making a film about art (fiction, music, painting) that concerns itself with such intellectual questions as the relationship between the real and the imagined and the ability of human beings to defy fate, death, and God, he has created a visually stunning, emotionally wrenching, and wholly unforgettable film. It is amazing to watch a film that deliberately insists on reminding its audience that this is an artifice, a created piece, an invention, nevertheless engage the emotions of its audience so completely.
That we should see the film as storytelling rather than as eavesdropping on Life is urged on us repeatedly. We are told that one of the many pre-texts to the film is the story (and music) of Scheherazade, the young woman who keeps her execution at bay by telling intertwined stories with no end. We are shown a troupe of players emerging from a building, costumed, made-up, and ready to entertain. Iraqi storytellers and players in traditional costume are shown reenacting scenes. Actors play multiple roles. Characters dead in one scene seem to live in others. One of the story arcs is about a young woman whose scripts for an ongoing soap opera are, Pirandello-like, protested by her actors (and characters) as tyranny. But despite these constant reminders that this is at most a world of "magical realism," the narrative proves so absorbing and the acting so affecting, that the viewer falls willingly into the emotional details of the mythical (and melodramatic) tale.
At its simplest, the story poses the interesting question whether Cervantes lives because he has created Don Quixote or if Don Quixote owes his immortality to Cervantes. And the film answers the question in favor of Don Quixote. It argues that as the createdDon Quixote has made Cervantes immortal, so does the art of the storyteller, the painter, the singer, and the musician lend immortality to the artists. But the film that teaches this lesson is lush, detailed, and evocative. There are visually stunning moments such as the two young women on either side of a glass window, the painter and paintings in the hospice, the scenes on the beach where the story of a family's disintegration and its effect on the individuals is presented with a few powerful images. With the aural and visual splendor of The Arabian Nights and the tradition of Iraqi storytelling in the background, the film tells the story of two young women. One writes the scripts for the TV serial that features the other. The actress is fiercely independent. When she finds herself pregnant, she calmly decides to abort. The married scriptwriter, competing with and loving her father at the same time, is in the hospital at the same time dealing with complications to her pregnancy. The two young women do not like each other, but are destined to have their stories parallel and sometimes intersect. One faces madness, the other life-threatening illness. Yes, we know it is not real, we are constantly reminded that even the illnesses are symbolic, we realize that this is very much like a soap opera, but so powerful is the acting and so skillfully wrapped in the mythic dimensions of the ancient tale that we are entranced by their stories.
In Nuzhat al-Faud (the title comes from the story reenacted from The Arabian Nights) Ne'eman combines the high art of the philosopher with the low art of daily melodrama to create an absorbing, breathtaking experience. The sound track is particularly marvelous, utilizing voice-over, ambient sounds, and classical music, punctuated by the conventions of the ancient storyteller.