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Love, death, and sexuality in Budapest a century ago
The Hungarian film Félvilág was shown in the U.S. with the translated title Demimonde (2015) (TV). It was directed by Attila Szász.
This film has been called a mystery. In the opening shot, the body of a nude woman has been found floating in a wicker basket on Budapest's Danube River. It's true that we don't know the identity of the woman because we just get a glimpse of the body. And, of course, at that point we don't know who killed her. However, the solution to the murder isn't the point of the film. The point of the film is the interaction among three strong, determined women. Also, as expected, it's about the status of women in Budapest in the early 20th Century.
Three brilliant actors play the three leading roles: Laura Döbrösi plays a young woman named Kató, who is accepted as a maid by the housekeeper Rózsi (Dorka Gryllus). Both women serve Elza Mágnás (Patricia Kovács), a famous courtesan and now a kept woman.
The plot is complicated, because Rózsi tells Kató that she was once more than a housekeeper. She and Elza were once best friends. Kató, although poor and homeless, is stronger than we think she is at first. She's honest and religious, but she's also aware of the intricate and subtle intrigues that surround her.
Obviously, any movie that begins with the discovery of a dead body isn't going to be a lighthearted romp. However, I found this movie to be particularly depressing while watching it, and that mood persisted after the film was over.
On the other hand, Demimonde was brilliantly acted, crafted, and photographed. I've been to Budapest in the spring, but not in winter. Even now, and even in the spring, it's a relatively cheerless city. In winter, and with WW I looming ahead, it's a dark, foreboding venue. The cinematographer, András Nagy, sets the mood of the film. My compliments to him for his outstanding work.
Demimonde has an excellent 7.4 IMDb rating as I write this review. That high rating is richly deserved. It's a film you don't want to miss, assuming you can accept the grim opening scene and the dark 88 minutes of movie that follow that scene. Great filmmaking doesn't always make you happy.
We saw this movie at the excellent Little Theatre in Rochester, NY. It was shown as part of ImageOut, the Rochester LGBT Film Festival. It's one of 22 movies that had its East Coast or New York State debut at ImageOut. What an outstanding festival this is--Rochester is lucky to have it.
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