My Twentieth Century (1989) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
13 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
an unsparing feminist manifesto beckons for a more effervescent reception
lasttimeisaw16 April 2017
Hungarian female director Ildikó Enyedi's ON BODY AND SOUL (2017), her first feature in 18 years, is the recipient of 2017 Golden Berlin Bear, so it is high time to reappraise her under-seen body of work, here comes her dazzling Black-and-White feature debut MY TWENTIETH CENTURY.

Capitalizing on the monochromatic mystique of a bygone era, the story focuses on identical twins Dora and Lili (Segda, a ), born in 1880, after their mother died and selling matches on a freezing cold night in Budapest, they are snatched away and lead separate lives. Their path will converge again in 1900, the turn of the century on the Oriental Express. Dora, a pert minx, dallies her way through men's courtship and rooks them as much as she can, whereas Lili, a dour-looking revolutionist, carries on a bomb-attacking mission with steely resolution. Unbeknown to each other, both's lives will soon be entangled with a mysterious middle-aged man Z (Yankovskiy, a magnetic cipher-like presence), a constellation of vignettes are engendered by alternating between Dora and Lili in their aggressive/passive sexual/power tugs-of-war with an inscrutable Z: playing hard to get, coquettishly libidinous, complete obedient, that is the gist of femininity's unabashed duality, as a riposte to the sidebar, where the young Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger (played by Paulus Manker with gusto and ridicule), who would kill himself in 1903 at the age of 23, rants about his misogynistic take on women's "whore/mother" dichotomy in front of a flock of suffragettes. In the hyper-surreal denouement, Dora and Lili finally meet inside a hall of mirrors (a motif almost runs to platitude), later arrives Z, ushered by a mule, a metaphor of men's intransigence and if one recalls, it also heralds the twins' separation at the first place.

The surreal touch is what makes Enyedi's daring debut a novelty, picking up the baton from erstwhile Mitteleuropa New Wave standard bearers (Vera Chytilová's DAISIES 1966, Jaromil Jires' VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS 1970, to name a few within the knowledge of this reviewer), Enyedi interpolates these elements to impart her rumination on more abstract aspects: nature vs. human (the monologue of a Zoo-trapped chimp, a lab dog on the lam confronting a railway train, other topographic arrangements), cosmology (Greek chorus of glistening stars), and technology (Edison's discovery opens and bookends the film, cinematograph, etc.), but this smorgasbord of ideas and conceptions fail to organically connect with the diegesis, a rookie indulgence for starters, often bite off more than one can chew - making every film as the last one. This approach does impinge on the cohesion of its central narrative, which could have been marshaled into a more scintillating doppelgänger charade. Yet, if eccentricity and diverse nuggets are what the filmmaker intends to chalk up, Enyedi has done a bang-up job!

Experimental but mesmerizing, compendious yet idiosyncratic, and particularly has a unique eye for lightning and mise-en-scène, MY TWIENTH CENTURY is a symphonic pastiche of cinematic tricks and an unsparing feminist manifesto beckons for a more effervescent reception.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
a hopeful mix of human emotion lit by electricity.
Charlie-20910 September 2002
In My Twentieth Century, the world begins to move electrically - dramatically, beautifully shown in electric dance costumes, marching bands and mirrored halls, spurred by a sad-faced (I really liked his face) actor as Edison, intoning toward the end that As god is magnificent for his creation, man is magnificent in learning how to harness it (not quite the line, but best I can do).

Meanwhile, twin orphan girls fall asleep, like the match girl in the Andersen story, hoping a lighted match will warm them on a snowy eve. Stars and a miraculous donkey lead well-dressed men to carry them to safety but in separate directions of compass and life. Later, one of them, now a poor anarchist, drops her copy of Kropotkin's "Mutual Aid" in the snow where a man finds it, reads it's message of cooperation and play among animals (in great distinction to the then popular capitalist theory of 'social darwinism' - "survival of the fittest" and "red in tooth and claw") through the night and becomes entwined in the narrative as he meets one of the young women and then the other, none of them knowing of the twin presence.

Kropotkin's observations, while brought in by a revolutionary, seemed to be the narrative of a playful counterpoint to the technologically modern world. I didn't see his words used as narrative as a turning back so much as a development that goes arm in arm with the other. His observations of rabbits "so drunk with play" they lack "fear of the fox" are juxtaposed with scenes of the man and the young women as they tryst happily and alternately take offense. While the anarchist seemed put off by the man's brusque manner (he had justifiably mistaken her for the more libidinous sister) the affairs seemed modern and innocent in consequence - no french lieutenant's woman fate, no scarlet letter. While Edison prepares to send a message by wire around the world, the young women and their man unite (it's vague but...) and wake to scenes of white pigeons in flight also carrying messages. Edison even confronts one before sending his own message.
12 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Don't try to understand, just enjoy
jonr-35 January 2004
Funny, touching, audacious, even momentarily erotic--this film pays homage to French surrealist cinema, the look and feel of the early classical Russian films, and the great broad fantasy tradition in literature and film that will never, as long as good humor and the irrational are honored, die out completely. My advice is: don't try to understand. Just sit back and be transported to a make-believe 1900 and have yourself a Happy New Year.

Oh, and don't overlook some very adept performances by a cat, a dog with electrodes in his head, a sad and too late wise chimpanzee, and a pigeon!
9 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
ang115030 November 2001
My Twentieth Century is a wonderful movie, starring a beautiful and talented actress. This movie is worth repeated viewings not only because of the cinematography, but for the story as well.

I saw it as a few stories. Set at the turn of the century, the movie explores the lives of twin girls, separated early in life. It is a quiet movie with little action. But the images will stay with you long after a viewing.
9 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
a beautiful film, but somewhat lacking in narrative focus
mjneu5917 December 2010
An accident of timing (and the lack of any quality competition) made this spirited but elusive Hungarian import a minor art house hit; certainly nothing in the film itself could justify the acclaim it received. The story criss-crosses the globe with an almost cheerful disregard for logic and consistency, jumping from New Jersey to Burma to Budapest to New York, Hamburg, Siberia and beyond, without ever settling on a common focus. Ostensibly, it traces the parallel lives of twin sisters born at the same time as Edison's incandescent light bulb; one grows up to be a fortune hunting, Bourgeois sensualist, while the other becomes a bomb-tossing political anarchist. But writer/director Ildikó Enyedi doesn't show much interest in character or narrative, and his script is never developed into anything more than an outline. Individual scenes are often amusing, but it's the goofball digressions (a chimpanzee interrupts the story at one point to tell how he was captured) that leave the best impression. The sometimes stunning photography (in rich black and white) clashes with the indifferently dubbed dialogue.
6 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An unusually good flick
aasimonjr20 March 2009
I have the LaserDisk. For those who didn't understand, it's an allegory for the 20th Century of Hungary. The two leading female roles are representative of a dichotomy of Hungarian National thought. A key scene is the one in which the leading lady (Dora?) allows herself to have sex with (or maybe seduces?)the male lead (who represents the Hungarian people/nation itself) and then allows herself to be re-serviced on board the ship (Fiume) by the German. Hungarian history is replete with a love/hate relationship with Germany. The Hungarian people have been very religious (read the lyrics to the Hungarian National Hymn), hence the intervention of the angels to protect the two girls. Hungary, in all its national aspirations and doubts, is protected by God.

The explanation is the scene in the hall of mirrors, in the angels' discussion of the male lead's dilemma, i.e. of loving both girls (or bring trapped by the Hungarian national dichotomy) but not understanding why or how to resolve his problem.

The ending is confusing. It appears to be a boat's passage into a limitless lake or ocean, perhaps suggesting an uncertain future for the nation and its people.
9 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Gorgeous, mysterious and unmissable.
MOscarbradley30 October 2017
A film of great charm, beauty and invention and yet it's almost totally unknown, Ildiko Enyedi's debut "My Twentieth Century" is ripe for rediscovery. It's the story of twin girls, Dora and Lili, (both played by Dorotha Segda), born in Budapest in 1880 but separated in early childhood, one growing up to be an anarchist, the other a courtesan. It's also the story of the inventions of one Thomas Edison and it's wonderfully shot in black and white, with nods to the silent cinema, by Tibor Mathe. Darting all over the place with no concessions to reality it feels, at times, like it could have been made by Max Ophuls early in his career and at other times like something from the Czech New Wave and you might even be forgiven for thinking that Miguel Gomes may have seen this before making "Tabu". Gorgeous, mysterious and unmissable.
3 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Pretentious, unsatisfying film
Red-12521 June 2015
The Hungarian film Az én XX. századom was shown in the U.S. with the title "My Twentieth Century (1989)." It was written and directed by Ildikó Enyedi.

We had high hopes for this movie. It won the Cannes Film Festival Camera D'Or, and--at least according to the VCR sleeve--both Gene Siskel and Vincent Canby really liked it. I thought it was terrible.

The plot sounds promising. Identical twin girls are separated when they are young, and follow different paths in life. One is sensuous and beautiful, and becomes a highly paid courtesan. The other one is less attractive, and becomes an anarchist revolutionary. (The lovely actor Dorota Segda plays both roles. It's amazing what makeup, costuming, and good acting can accomplish. You accept her as two different people.)

However, beyond the potentially interesting plot concept, and the good acting by the Ms. Segda, there's nothing worthwhile that I could find in this movie. We hear talking angels, a donkey wanders through, there's a dog with electrodes in his head, and Thomas Edison repeatedly asks the crowd to hush so he can make his pompous announcements. Even a helicopter makes a brief cameo appearance.

Some IMDb reviewers have found this film beautiful. Others have found it profoundly symbolic. I'm not sure they watched the same movie that I watched. We saw the film at home. There's no real scenic grandeur, so my guess is that it wouldn't work any better on the large screen. It wouldn't work any better in color. It would probably work just as well without subtitles. Maybe better. "My Twentieth Century" is a waste of time. Avoid it.
6 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
This movie is why we dream and feel and think
markbeau14 June 2013
At the turn of the century, there were terrorists with bombs, a magic called electricity and of course, there was love, represented by twin sisters born - one a courtesan, the other a political feminist. It was a time when everything was black and white. This movie does what movies are supposed to do - to make you dream and think and feel about our experiences on earth. Like great dreams, you may not fully understand them, until you reflect and see it again.

First time I saw this at the SF Film Fest was a 1989 preview. Ten minutes into it the projector shut down. "We apologize, but we started with the second reel first. We don't have enough time to show it now, but check back for a reschedule." Talk about feeling confused and having low expectations with other films to see, for some reason I came back; I suppose to get my money's worth. Maybe it put the hook in me. So it opens with a dreamlike child's instrument playing, and stock footage of a circus entertainer putting his head in a canon, holding a torch to the fuse - all playing in reverse cycles. The film challenges you deceptively with old film tricks, but they are well thought out. A modern director would plod epic beginning - Edison's first public display of electric light. Enyedi as light as a snowflake directs us to the first magnificent scene set at night. People in period 1880's clothing see light bulbs for the first time. Playing Stars and Stripes, a band marches forward, mostly Negroes lit up, powered by a following horse-drawn cart holding Edison's sinister sounding generator. Electricity! With creative liberties, the director swiftly takes us from New Jersey to Hungary, where twins are born to sell matches in the night snow only to be driven away by a constable. They huddle to strike a flame; curious, innocent faces are brightened. Matches!

The director uses the spark of these twins as two different female natures to advance us into the birth of the twentieth century. A must see for anyone who values cinema.
5 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Fantastic achievement ruined by idiotic subtitling
Aw-komon22 December 2000
An absolutely magical film of profound significance and beauty despite the fact that the retarded blocked-out subtitles destroy a part of the picture on the print they used for the video. The guy who subtitled this should be taken out and thrown off a cliff. Let's hope they don't cheap out (like they almost certainly will) and put the same print on a DVD. Improve the goddamn subtitles you morons! Take out the blocking, reduce them in size and make them yellow if you have to, but change the way it is now. This masterpiece of a film deserves better.
6 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
EdF13523 February 1999
I normally have a problem with contemporary films shot in black in white, but this one was too good for my misgivings. It's the story of twin girls who are separated early in life and go in separate directions (one as a seductress, one as an anarchist) towards each other as the world marches into the 20th century.
4 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Don't bother, this film is straight retarded.
awhittle-119 April 2007
Face it, pretty lighting aside this film is only goes in circles and has too much symbolism. this god awful flick was mad boring. for real! Its like a bunch of Volvo riding granola heads in Hungary got to together and wrote a half ass story about how much they hate Ronald Reagen!! and its 'okay' thats all good for like ten minutes but gimme a break...try and devote a little time to a story. these camera jockeys threw in far too many issues for consideration, and it makes me feel like I'm not watching a film but rather reading the back of a liberal independent newspaper in some straight square ass bohemian café in Mill Valley. Bleh! cut the crap liberals can be boring as hell!
4 out of 45 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
rlennen31 August 2002
electricity...the stars talking...a dog with electrodes on its head...a whore and a terrorist...the pigeons...the donkey...siberia...what the freakin hell? this one either went right over my head. nothing else to say about this one but i'm supposed to fill up 4 lines. rating -6/10.
3 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed