Reviewed By: Anton Bitel
Júlia (Wéber Kata) stops her van to help a child lying, apparently unconscious, in the middle of a suburban street, only to have her neck slashed by the boy who then, along with the rest of his young gang, makes off with her vehicle.
This opening sequence in Vranik Roland's Transmission is witnessed not only by us, but by Henrik (Terhes Sándor), a middle-aged, bearded man who gazes down in fascinated indifference from the upper floor of his home. "You watched and didn't do anything?" Júlia will later ask Henrik accusingly after she has started going out with his younger brother Ottó (Hajduk Károly). "Was it nice?"
Oblique and elliptical to a fault, Transmission never addresses directly the questions that it raises about the ethical and psychological effects of distanced, disengaged viewing, but instead finds an ingenious way to dramatise these ideas in negative. For the film is a sort of anti-SF, set some time after all the world's television and computer monitors have suddenly and inexplicably stopped working. As an immediate consequence, power stations and communications networks have ceased to function – and all the most common forms of mediated image have become conspicuous only by their absence.
Nora (Éva Kerekes), the wife of Henrik's other brother Vilmos (Rátóti Zoltán), spends hours sitting and staring at the blank screen in her home, neglecting the daily needs of her two young daughters – and when asked by Vilmos what she is doing, she replies: "Nothing, just waiting." An elderly man and woman at the retirement home where Nora works similarly sit staring at a defunct television in the kitchen while they eat. Old habits, you see, die hard. One of Ottó's friends meditates in a trance-like state before a silent TV – "He thinks everything's perfectly OK," Ottó explains to Júlia, "he suspects it's just mass hypnosis."
People queue up en masse at the generator-powered cinema to watch old projected movies (where significantly, amongst the Die Hards, the Gone With The Winds and the Shreks, that classic of urban voyeurism and violence Red Road is also showing). Meanwhile, Henrik himself suffers from crippling insomnia – a result of the fact that he used to fall asleep in front of the television – and he will go to increasingly bizarre lengths to transform his everyday experiences into contained, controlled perspectives.
"Something's still missing," Henrik observes, after he has painstakingly erected a massive brick wall in his garden to block out the sea view - and Vranik's subdued satire is, indeed, preoccupied with absences. For different reasons, Nora goes missing, followed by her children, and then by Vilmos – while a wall in the town square, public analogue to Henrik's private one, is festooned with posters for the community's many other missing persons.
Even those who stay in the picture are hardly all there. For while, unusually for a post-apocalyptic film, the denizens of this coastal town have found ways to accommodate the 'disorder' visited upon them, and continue, despite the shortages of meat and power, to lead relatively ordinary, comfortable lives, they have nonetheless been reduced to ghosts of their former selves, unable to find respite from the reality of their day-to-day existences together, or cathartic release from their fear and guilt. The feral children in the film's opening scene, and the subsequent episodes involving Nora and Vilmos' daughters, suggest that an even greater disconnection is coming to the young, as the sins of the fathers are transmitted, unmediated, to the next generation.
Framed with a staid precision, and boasting an eerie sound design to match the enigmatic understatement of the narrative, Transmission is a dystopian allegory like no other, perhaps best watched on home video for a full appreciation of its puzzles and paradoxes.