Tuesday, 3 July 2007

A Long Weekend in Pest and Buda (Hungary, 2003, Karoly Makk)

The collapse of Communism had a significant impact upon the fates of many of the gifted film makers from Eastern Europe. Some, like Kieslowski and Tarkovsky, had been courted by the West, and were able to adapt and make their films free from political influence and on their own terms. These directors had made films that had been international successes, but directors of more low key, but arguably equally impressive films, did not share the same benefits. Those who remained in their home countries were faced with national film industries with little concrete infrastructure. Films were now made according to commercial pressures, and many of these directors did not have a history of making commercially viable films. Karoly Makk is one such example, having worked on only a few projects since the 1990s, most notably ‘The Gambler’, a cross-national film, which I’ve not seen, but doesn’t appear to have anything like a good reputation.

Following this, Makk was able to make a sequel of sorts to his remarkable ‘Love’, made in 1971. The characters are now different; Luca has become Mari, and Janos has become Ivan, but the two actors more or less reprise their roles from ‘Love’. Flashbacks from ‘Love’ are used, and the husband was also arrested during the 1950s on political charges, so whilst it’s not a straight forward sequel so to speak, it’s not far off.

Mari and Ivan are no longer married, but they appear in each other’s lives once more when Ivan (now living in Lugano) receives a telephone call from Mari’s nurse, who explains to him that she is close to death and that if he is ever going to see her again, it has to be now. Ivan has a new life, a second wife, but returns to Hungary, where he has not been since fleeing after his release from prison many decades before. The Hungary of the 21st century is vastly different to the country he recalls. Having embraced the spirit of capitalism, Makk focuses on many of the negative side effects of this; homelessness, and crime for example, as well as the gaudy excesses.

Makk’s intentions are not to seek reconciliation between Mari and Ivan, whose marriage is well beyond them. However, when Ivan fled Hungary, Mari was pregnant. Mari had never told Ivan, and told her daughter (Anna) that her father was dead. Ivan now seeks to establish a relationship with his daughter, even at the risk of re-opening old wounds. Mari confesses to Ivan that she was partly responsible for his imprisonment, having reported on him for activities she assumed were harmless, but were significant.

Anna has her own issues though; an on-off relationship with a semi-legitimate businessman (another indication of the corrupt post-Communist world), so Ivan’s arrival only serves to complicate things further. Ivan shows her his place of birth and tells her of his childhood to connect with her, though this excursion has tragic consequences, when they both miss Mari’s death, which Anna blames him for. Rejected by her and with his ex-wife dead, Ivan returns to Lugano; his wife gone. The film closes with Anna calling her father; their relationship appears to be a permanent one, lasting beyond the death of the woman they had in common (similar to ‘Love’ in many ways).

Makk’s film would be a pretty successful venture in its own right, though it’s hard to be too objective watching it, as it’s going to naturally draw comparisons with ‘Love’, which I consider a masterpiece. The themes of ‘Love’ and the political conditions in which it was made and set aren’t so prevalent here. ‘A Long Weekend…’ is a film purely focused on reconnection between people, which is fine, but doesn’t have the same kind of depth its predecessor had. The comparison between Communist and post-Communist Hungary is interesting though; capitalism and materialism present their own problems, and Makk is by no means suggesting things have improved. It’s often said that film makers during Communism faced political censorship, and post-Communism, they face economic censorship. Films are not being made because of commercial interests rather than political interests, and one wonders whether Makk has revisited ‘Love’ because he considered there was unfinished business, or whether it was the only way he could make a film on his own terms. So whilst it’s intriguing in its own right, it’s probably not essential viewing without having seen ‘Love’.

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