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Movie Review: Gems from the Eighth Hungarian Film Festival (LA)

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Although this is the 8th Hungarian Film Festival, I had never thought much about Hungarian films. This is partially because the festival is on the other side of town, at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood and the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills, but only partially. Hungary is producing some wonderful movies well worth seeing. These are in Hungarian with English subtitles.

Eszter's Inheritance (Eszter Hagyatéka):
Written and directed by József Sipos, this 2008 movie begins with a woman in despair. This is in a golden distant past, before ballpoint pens. We know she has loved the wrong man and he has brought about a catastrophe, but we aren't sure at first what. She, Eszter (Eszter Nagy-Kálózy), is determined to write down how her one and only love returned after twenty years to totally ruin her. Lajos (Gyorgy Cserhalmi) courted Eszter, but married her sister. Now widowed, he will return with his two children, one of whom needs money and believes that Eszter somehow owes her. Based on a 1939 novel by Hungarian writer Sándor Márai, this movie is beautifully filmed and the cast move us into a tragic world where a middle-aged woman makes a romantic sacrifice in the name of a love that was and one that was not, during a time when a well-to-do woman had few choices except fate.

Opium (Egy Elmebeteg No Naplója): Like Eszter's Inheritance (also known as Esther's Inheritance), Opium is based on a book, but not a novel — an autobiographical book about a Lothario who used his doctor's license to procure both women and drugs, in this case morphine. Directed by Janos Szasz, the long title is Opium: Diary of a Madwoman. The movie begins with a view of the startlingly pale Gizella (Kirsti Stubo). Her platinum blonde white hair is cut short, almost mannish. She is underwater. Alive? Dead? It isn't clear at first. This is psychiatric treatment of a less enlightened age, where lobotomies are commonly practiced and this water therapy attempts to calm the prolific writing of Gizella and her hypersexuality. This 2007 movie, written from Géza Csáth's diaries with András Szekér writing the screenplay, won actor Stubo a best actress award at the 2007 Moscow International Film Festival. Csáth was the pen name of József Brenner (1887-1919) who was a medical doctor from 1909 and did supposedly suffer from writer's block in 1912 when he was a doctor at a Slovakian health spa. There he had sexual intercourse with many women, not all of it apparently consensual. He was a cad, misogynistic and without a conscience. He did eventually commit suicide. This movie is an absorbing account of the cruel practices of another era and of how the doctor cured his writer's block while supposedly curing a patient.

Eighth Day of the Week: This is not the 1958 German movie. Reminds one that once the glory of one's youth is gone, one still must live. After her husband dies, Hanna, a former prima ballerina, finds out about her husband's infidelity and her son's indifference to his heritage and her future. She is cheated out of her home and ends up homeless — a fear that many women in many different countries are haunted by. Yet this 2006 movie isn't so dreary and is a gentle fable and how when one really looks at the nobility in all people, one can find a life worth living and, yes, even love late in life. Under the direction of Judi Elek.

Girls (Lányok): Directed by Anna Faur, the 2007 movie begins with a standard declaration that the characters are fictional. Instead of claiming this movie was inspired by a real incident (which it was — in 1997 a taxi driver was murdered for no apparent reason by teenage girls), Faur brings us dirty, bleak realism in a fictional tale about young teens wandering through life without a cause, direction or care. The girls in question are Dini (Fulvia Collongues) and Anita (Hélène François), who, if they lived in the US, would be little more than mall rats. They loiter in shopping malls and offer sexual services to taxi drivers in exchange for money or driving lessons. They seem always a little greasy, more than a little cheap and their mouths are caught in a pout accented by cheap, smeared lipstick. Dini is the dominant of the two and seems without any real feeling — except when she is called a whore and takes offense. Anita lives with her mother and her mother's lover who seems to have an interest in both girls. While Anita doesn't involve herself in Anita's sex for sale, she will become involved in the murder. The taxi drivers are no less repellent. Dini's regular customer, Ernő (Sándor Zsótér), is constantly looking for ways to make fast money but he's trapped in a loveless marriage. With teenagers calling out "stupid, cocksucking faggot" or having parties where sex (masturbation and groping) is nothing more than a means of passing the time and adults are in equally meaningless relationships, director Faur illustrates a culture more dead than alive and without hope. The murder becomes just little monsters being monstrous to a bigger monster.

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