09 February 2006
Dir: Istvan Szabo. Hungary. 2006. 110mins
After 12 years making films with strong international flavour, Istvan Szabo is back home for an adaptation of a critically-acclaimed novel by Zsigmund Moricz about an ambitious but naive idealist who is sucked in by corruption.
A Hungarian picture made for Hungarian audiences, this darkly ironic cautionary tale resonates with contemporary relevance. Although its heavy reliance on dialogue may hinder international sales, Szabo's name, the lavish camerawork of cinematographer Lajos Koltai and the cast which includes some of the top Hungarian names will provide plenty of festival dates.
Voters in a provincial Hungarian town elect Istvan Kopjass (Csanyi) to the post of attorney general. The young idealist is perfect; he satisfies the townfolk's desire for a corrupt-free local governor while the town's powerbrokers see him as an easily-manipulated puppet.
Istvan's intention to make a clean sweep of things hit two obstacles. First, the city's largest employer, the pig breeding factory, wants to protects its own interests. Second, he is torn by loyalty to his numerous relatives who all suddenly pop up seeking favours. His wife's (Ildiko Toth) warnings are ignored, not least because he gets seduced both by the chance to climb socially and by the elegant charms of a local lady of means (Erika Marozsan). When he finally catches on to the fact that he is nothing more than a patsy, it is far too late to make amends.
Though made on a very tight budget, this is a handsome production, from the pristine images from cinematographer Koltai through to exquisitely chosen costumes and sets.
As well as depicting a flawed social order, where everything has a price and everyone is for sale, Szabo stresses the particular nature of corruption in the context of the Central European mentality, both past and present.
Some of the performances including Csanyi in the lead and Karoly Eperjes as the villain of the piece are stilted as they struggle to remain faithful to the original material. On the other hand, Toth, veteran Russian actor Oleg Tabakov as the Mayor and Czech director Jiri Menzel in a cameo as a smooth municipal operator, are a delight to watch.
Objektiv FilmStudio, ISL Films, TV2
Istvan Szabo, Andrea Veszits
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