On my first full day in Hungary I thought I wanted to see a European, preferable Hungarian movie. When I found a movie titled Budapest, that was a Brazilian-Hungarian movie I realized what I really wanted is to see something I would have no access back in the US. Budapest fit the bill plus I could see it in one of the grand old movie theaters a block from my mother’s place.
The one-liner summaries of movies in the weekly program magazines are infamously misleading. For Budapest it said something along the lines: “a Brazilian writer falls in love with Budapest and Gabriella Hámori” (a young actress famous in Hungary but not much outside.) This was essentially true description and based on this the movie could have been even good. It had several redeeming qualities, but overall I wish I’d chosen something else to check out in the few days I can spend in the old country.
Let me star with what I liked. The photography was gorgeous and innovative, done by Lula Carvalho, the son of the film’s director Walter Carvalho. I enjoyed several visual ideas, such as the camera’s movement as it followed the chopped up statue of Lenin traveling on a boat on the river, the panning along the seashore shots, or the closing sequence that ends with a camera facing the mirror/audience.
Another thing I enjoyed as a Hungarian was the locations I could identify and identify with. For example the literary club scenes were shot in a palace we visited with my wife and considered for our engagement party; the bar where our hero ended up not playing Russian roulette is one I visited a few times myself; the woman’s apartment was in a building a friend of mine used to live and the bookshop where the two main characters met I recognized at the first shot, just by looking at the directions the shelves stood. I was happy with myself that I remembered these places and helped me to reconnect with Budapest the place. Similarly it helped my self-esteem when I could name the Hungarian actors who showed up in the film even if I haven’t seem for a decade or two, while they put on weight or aged in other ways.
One of the major themes of the movie was the tension ghost writers feel if they crave recognition but can’t get it by the nature of their work. I liked how they connected it to the author of Gesta Hungarorum, a codex of Hungary’s history written around 1200 in Latin. The author’s name and identity is not known as he referred to himself in the work as Anonymi Bele Regis Notarii (‘the anonymous notary of king Bela’), but is generally cited as Anonymus. His statue in Budapest (see on the side) plays a returning role in the movie. He is the original ghost writer in Hungarian lore and was glad to see him recognized as such.
Despite all of the above I didn’t like the movie, because the story, the directing and the acting was all just a bit too weak. The tension I mentioned above, the romantic entanglement between cultures, and the ardorous road of language acquisition are all good topics, but none of them were properly treated or explored neither by the script nor by the director. They all left me wanting more and better. I thought that Leonardo Medeiros’ acting was stiff (as the ghost writer) and he had no chemistry with any of the other characters. Finally there were several sex and lots of nude scenes in the movie, that made me uncomfortable not just because I am bit of a prude, but also because they were not well done.
IMDB’s summary: Costa is a Brazilian ghost writer. Returning from a ghost writers convention his airplane is rerouted to Budapest. His life is also rerouted when he meets Krista and with her help, learns “the only language in the world which, according to the tongue-wagers, the devil respects”.