Bahrtalo! (2008, Hungary)

Bahrtalo! follows the adventures of two friends from Transylvania, Lori, a Hungarian guy and Lali, a Gabor gypsy. The title of the movie means  “Good luck!” in the language of the latter’s tribe, whose characteristics include big hats and mustaches. They struggle through life trying to make deals to keep them afloat their financially. Their brain works like many others’ in the region: looking for opportunities everywhere, even if others don’t see it.

The outline of the plot can be shared in a few words: First they visit Vienna in the hope of buying some used electronics that they could sell back in Hungary or Romania. Two years later Lori is a tourist guide in Egypt and Lali visits him with a German Sheppard they hope to sell for a minor fortune. At the same time Lali hopes he can get a specially designed cup made there that he could sell as authentic back home.

What is harder to capture in words is the atmosphere of the movie. The director developed the film from his earlier “situational documentary,” where he suggested a basic situation to to people and then followed with the cameras what they did with it. That’s exactly how the earlier scenes in this film were made. As a result the sequences in Vienna are hilarious and authentic because the two friends, who are not actors, played themselves and acted “naturally.” The parts shot in Egypt were also minimally scripted, but the crew was on a a tighter budget and time, so they had to influence more the development of the story. Thus the two friends feel a more constrained there and it shows in the movie to. Not enough to disturb the viewing experience, but they are less funny and relaxed. Which may fit both the situation (being in a place that is exotic and foreign to them) and the stage of their relationship (conflict develops.)

The most enjoyable aspects of the movie for me were the characters themselves and the street shots. They reminded me of path I could have taken and past I lived through decades ago. I also enjoyed that both protagonists were open-minded and adamant at the same time and always positive, good humored. Finally I have to mention that their admirable friendship survived various tests of times and tempers. Other kind of people might have abandoned the relationship, but they stick to each other. That’s a value that is getting ever so rare in our selfish world.

The DVD includes scenes which didn’t make it to the movie. I recommend watching them as they help to fill the holes in the movie. E.g. I was wondering how can you take a dog from Hungary to Egypt without proper papers. You only find the answer in the extras. It’s unfortunate that these extra scenes didn’t have English subtitles as my wife got less out of them this way. I also suggest to flip through the comic strips extras on the DVD. Each of the dozen or so, three panel strip is a self-contained joke; again only in Hungarian.

IMDB’s summary: How to hit the Jackpot? This question is not a simple one to answer for anybody. But it is even harder to solve for the two friends from this film, the “big hat” Gypsy, and his Hungarian body – both of them Transylvanians. Many times they don’t succeed, but even if they do, their success don’t last long. But they know something not all of us know: how to enjoy life. In this neorealistic comedy even if the situations are set up by the director, the two main characters are playing themselves, and solving the problems in their own way. In fact the camera follows the adventures of a real friendship in different countries, through different cultures


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