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Posted by martinteller on June 9, 2013

A former junkie (Felícián Keresztes) is off the stuff himself, but he continues to deal to make money.  Over the course of a day, he makes his deliveries riding around town on his bicycle.  He has a wide variety of customers.  One is a famous religious leader, painfully constipated from cocaine withdrawal.  One is a man severely burned, looking for a fix that will put him out of his misery for good.  One is an ex-girlfriend (Anikó Szigeti) with a daughter (Edina Balogh) who may or may not be the dealer’s child.  One is a man (Dusán Vitanovics) whose mother sets a trap for the dealer, threatening him never to sell to her son again.  One is a student on a bad mushroom trip, mechanically repeating “Mom, Dad, Mom, Dad” on an endless loop.  One is an old friend trying to kick, theorizing that the dealer’s watered down heroin will help him get off the really good stuff.  Along the way, the dealer also sees his girlfriend Barbara (Barbara Thurzó), who pressures him to give up the business, and his long-suffering father.

Four years ago, I saw my first film by Hungarian director Benedek Fliegauf, Tejút.  It was a very static movie… literally, as it consists of 10 immobile shots.  It was a difficult viewing experience, but with some intriguing absurdist humor, fine compositional sense and an effective ambient soundtrack.  This earlier film has some of those same elements, and some very different.  There is certainly no absurdist humor, although a couple of moments did seem like an attempt at black comedy.  Far from immobile shots, here the camera is almost always wandering, gracefully and precisely circling around the characters, occasionally pausing for a close-up.  The soundtrack is an interesting situation.  Every minute or so, three even, mid-range electronic tones repeat, and this happens throughout the entire film (except during one key scene).  There’s little variation, they almost form the movie’s steady heartbeat.  With ambient drone mixed in, it’s an unusual soundscape… one that may annoy some viewers.

Stylistically there’s a lot to be impressed with.  The cold color tones evoke dead spaces, morgues disguised as apartments.  The somber, reflective mood has evoked more than one comparison to Tarr and Tarkovsky.  But as far as content goes, it’s a lot of the same drug movie clichés, just at half-speed.  The film gets more interesting the further it gets away from drugs, as the dealer interacts with his father or the child.  Just because Keresztes wears the same blank, stoic expression doesn’t make the same old drug scenes any deeper in meaning.  Some of it feels fresh (the burn victim) but much of it was too familiar, and I don’t know if any of it really says anything meaningful.

And I have some other quibbles.  The ending is unearned.  I just didn’t buy that this guy would do that.  There is some less-than-stellar acting… when Szigeti speaks English in a phone conversation, it doesn’t sound like broken English or heavily accented English.  It sounds like someone who learned her lines phonetically.  And I’m no expert on drug dealers, but my impression is it would be pretty unusual for the same person to dealing cocaine, heroin and mushrooms.  But the situation could be different in Hungary, and I could be dead wrong about that anyway.

I like Fliegauf’s craftsmanship, and I feel there’s probably a winner somewhere in his filmography.  But two so far have been misses.  Not huge misses, but flawed enough to give me pause.  Rating: Fair (66)


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