A short news item at a Hungarian portal prompted me to watch a movie that has been standing on my shelf for a while. The piece was covering Ibolya Oláh, a singer, who often goes to sleep with an empty stomach, because she cannot get enough work. She attributes this to sticking to her principles and not willing to kiss people’s ass. The article also mentioned that she just won a legal case and finally she will receive the money she is owed for her acting and singing in the movie Casting Minden (“Casting Everything”). Unfortunately she has to transfer almost all of that for the back taxes she owes.
Reading this little piece reminded me of the movie that my mother gave me at least half a year ago and I never got to it. I watched and enjoyed it now, although I regret that I had to do it alone. The DVD has no English (or any other) subtitles and my wife’s Hungarian may or may not be good enough to follow a movie. Even if she could she would have had different reactions than I did. E.g. I connected to it on a visceral level, when I saw scenes shot on locations that used to be part of my life. E.g. the pizzeria where one of the character’s was working was half a block away from my grandmother’s apartment in Szondy utca. The spot at the little lake in the park, where another character hanged out with his boyfriend, was the very same area where I used to catch tadpoles with a mini-net as a kid. These and a few more scenes evoked strong memories but the rest of the movie moved beyond being vehicle for nostalgy.
The story is based around an American Idol kind of TV talent show and the eventual winner of the contest: a young orphan woman, who works at an orphanage herself. As I learned from the werkfilm on the DVD, the story was specifically written for Oláh, who in real life was the runner-up of the very first such TV show in Hungary “Megasztár” (“MegaStar”) in 2004. She didn’t win there despite being many viewers’ favorite and having a terrific voice. It is kind of a consolation that she won in the movie, although reading the legal troubles about getting her fee must have made the victory sour.
The movie has a touch of social criticism as she plays a gypsy woman, who is often treated with the prejudice many bears in Hungary against them. It was good to see her character as a strong one, who stands up against maltreatment, when necessary. She also had loyalty towards the friends she grew up with as an orphan, although we see this friendship as a misplaced one. Her old friends would pull her back from filling her potentials.
Music and songs played a central role in the movie. The TV show was supposed to be a retro show. The young contestants sang older Hungarian hit songs. I was surprised that I didn’t know all of them, despite quite familiar with Hungarian pop/rock music up till 1995. I couldn’t decide whether the new (for me) songs were of later origin, specifically written for the movie, or older ones that I somehow missed. I was dismayed the only thing they did to make the songs feel more modern was to speed them up, often at least 50%. I felt that they lost their ambiance this way and made it harder to sing and enjoy them. I was also disappointed with Olah’s final song. The song she sang in the preliminary race, and the other segments where she sang showed the depth and beauty of her voice. But the song she was supposed to win the race with was not as well interpreted as it could have been. I like her voice, I have her first CD that is particularly good. But this song was not performed adequately I feel.
I have to share a coincidental parallel I noticed. I watched this movie one day after Susannah York passed away. Her most famous role was Alice in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Casting Minden starts with an intercut of two kind of mini-clips: horses and jockeys getting ready to run a race and the test recordings of people who auditioned for the fictional TV show, but didn’t make it. This segmenting suggests that there is not much difference between humans and horses participating in races, particularly if they loose. As both movies depict the races themselves can be grueling even if the people’s motivation of entering them is different.
Based on the above you may think I have only negative criticism for the movie. That’s not so. I liked the pace, the editing, the competition, the combination of fun and deeper messega, and most of the actors’ performance. The voice trainer, the “nanny” and Olah were really good. Havnig never seen a single episode of Megasztar or American Idol or anything similar (but having been exposed to celebrity news) I got a little, and just enough, insight into this unknown world.
Trailer (in Hungarian):