director Kornél Mundruczó
The Hungarian film, White God, seemed intriguing to me. Something metaphorical with these images of the empty streets of Budapest swarmed by a gang of mongrels. It won Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2014.
It does have some good dog acting.
The film follows Lili, a young teen who is shuffled off on her father when her mother has to leave for a project in Australia. Lili’s relationship with her father is strained enough, but she also has a large mutt named Hagen on her hands, who she refuses to abandon or take to the pound despite her father’s dislike for it and his building’s unfriendly pet rules. Hagen eventually ends up on the streets, bonding with the other mongrels, in and out of doggie jail, eventually roaming in a pack in a somewhat post-apocalyptic vision.
Though perhaps not explicit, it’s hard not to read the mixed-breed dogs and their low estimation in the eyes of adults and authorities as some slant on immigration. Lili identifies with Hagen because she, too, feels an outsider status and has no ingrained animosity toward him. But ultimately, what is the story or the moral of the film? Beware your bad attitude toward immigrants because they’ll run roughshod over the streets? And only a girl with a trumpet can soothe the savage beasts?
Frankly, the film was quite disappointing. And not just in my half-assed reading of the film. It’s kind of an interesting idea and there are some nice shots of a city overrun by a pack of dogs, and yes, the dog acting is very good.
But it’s not a great film. Maybe not even a good one.
director György Pálfi
I guess I’ve found a new resource for film discovery: the internet list.
I “discovered” Taxidermia, a Hungarian film by György Pálfi, in musing through the internets over lists of “weirdest movies” or “most disgusting” or some such thing. I hadn’t heard of it. Didn’t know a thing about it. I believe it was Flavorwire’s The 50 Weirdest Movies Ever Made, that might have started it. Anyhow, it looked interesting enough to queue up.
Broken into three segments, Taxidermia is indeed quite gross, but it’s also quite an unusual creation. It’s firstly more an art film, perhaps along the lines of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen (1991) with a surrealist camp aesthetic perhaps with a certain Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) but without the out-and-out sense of humor. In fact, the humor is more morbid than mordant.
Its story is told in three segments, first via a sex-obsessed lackey in WWII, a post-war competitive eating champion in the Soviet era, and finally a socially awkward taxidermist in the modern piece. I believe it’s meant to be metaphorical to Hungary’s role and identity plodding through those times, and if so, quite the disturbing criticism indeed.
Each generation is beget as bastards, raised by stand-in parents, for one thing. And whether you father a child by raping the corpse of a slaughtered pig, you eat your gluttonous fill and puke buckets and buckets without actually ever competing in the Olympics, or you wind up taxidermying yourself in some bizarro post-mortem sculpture, there is probably endless fodder here for analyzing the critiques and social commentaries.
It’s quite good, in its way. It’s also massively disgusting in its way as well. Not for the weak of stomach, though all the grossness is done with practical visual effects and isn’t at all literally real.
(2000) dir. Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky
This was one of those Netflix recommendations, and a weird one, too. It’s just that I am pretty wordly in knowing my directors and I had never heard of Béla Tarr, much less the Werckmeister Harmonies. Heck, I didn’t even know who Werckmeister was. Turns out that Andreas Werckmeister was music theorist and composer in the Baroque era. There is an interesting diatribe by one of the characters about how Werckmeister got it all wrong and ruined music by establishing rules about harmony and the like. Hey, I have never taken music theory so I will just have to say, “sure”.
It also turns out that Béla Tarr is a pretty masterful cineaste. Werckmeister Harmonies, filmed in black and white, is made with only 39 cuts, so each scene lasts several minutes and features a beautifully choreographed roaming camera perspective that is an entity unto itself, at times part of the crowd, at times above the crowd. But the camera is so elegantly utilized that often one is just pulled in along with it, not always aware of its movement and its presence as the source of vision. Some of the crowd scenes move so beautifully, so naturally, that you don’t think automatically of how choreographed it must be. The camera just moves among the people, around the square.
The film itself has a slow pace that is a bit challenging on television, which is a shame. The narrative is strange and not explicit, with several characters and mini-narratives that it’s strange and hard to follow. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s a stream-of-consciousness dream that unfolds slowly and yet inevitably. Though the film is very different, I was reminded of Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002), which also utilized long scenes (it had no cuts at all) and tracking characters as they walked.
The movie has a Surrealist temperment, with the strange stuffed whale and the mysterious “Prince”, who incites violence and psychosis, reminding me of the devil in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. The mysterious van pulls into town and with its mere presence in the cold, foggy square, turns the world to chaos. It’s a dark and pessimistic tale, and it is very surprising and visually rich. Certainly a good movie to start off the year with.
(2003) dir. Nimród Antal
A dark little Hungarian film shot in the Budapest subway system. It interested me since I had travelled in that subway system years ago and remembered how interesting it looked. It makes for great location shots and there is a compelling world created there within.
The film is sort of a fantasy, an “underground” (multiple meanings here) world of insane ticket collectors (so crazy and perverse that the film opens with a disclaimer by the manager of the transit system saying that this film is pure fiction and that the ticket inspectors don’t behave like they do in the movie). It’s funny and the characters are quirky and amusing, as is their world.
The film never really clarifies how literal some things are, leaving quite a bit open to interpretation, which is usually a good thing — and maybe it is here, too.
I liked the film. I thought it was fun. And though I have forgotten more than I know about it, it might be an interesting companion piece to Luc Besson’s 1985 film Subway