No matter how I look at it, being broke becomes Szabolcs Hajdu. It dresses him. With creativity, tightness and intensity. And he knows everything about the miseries embittering the life of Hungarian families today, about the rainbow of unhappiness and longing. REVIEW BY SÁNDOR ZSIGMOND PAPP
The background story of It’s Not the Time of My Life at first glancesays a lot. We can say that this is a film of protestation. Or more accurately: of the self-esteem of creation and independence. Of standing up for something. As we saw earlier, Mirage, shot in the vice of the expectations of the Film Fund had become an example of beautiful manoeuvring, and not of liberated art. So Szabolcs Hajdu made a decision: enough with the state funding already, no more outsider perspectives, let us get back to grass roots.
The film was shot in twelve days in the rented flat of the Hajdu family (the apt viewer can spot the poster of Tamara on the wall, and the poster of Mirage next to the desk, upside down). In addition to the steady team of fellow creators the whole family joined up, the two children, and the already indispensable wife. The cameras were given to graduate students, thirteen (!) of them altogether, but this has no effect on the unified imagery of the film, in other words: the viewer does not even notice the thirteen different pairs of hands and eyes. And students helped out with background noises as well. So the very least that can be said about the film is that it was conceived outside the system, with the most simple tools available, demonstrating with its mere existence that artistic creativity has a place in the sun even without grovelling and compromises, and perhaps this is the only viable way: to replace state funded mazes with ingenuity and group effort.
Just like in the case of Tamara and Off Hollywood, this film has a history on the stage as well, making it somewhat static (we do not leave the flat except for that one long gaze out the window by Farkas), but this does not spoil a single frame, on the contrary, it leaves us with the feeling of completeness. We do not miss anything beyond those walls, as the words of the characters, their gestures and tempers brought from that world describe it perfectly.
Ernella and her husband return home after a year in Scotland, although they planned to stay for at least ten years. (One of the funniest scenes is when Farkas played by Szabolcs Hajdu confronts Albert with his failure, his retreat, his earlier vows. But this is no joke really, it is biting wit.) Their car has broken down, they have nowhere to go, so they crash at Farkas’s place (the two wives, Eszter and Ernella, are sisters). And although it is only for a few days, the sleepover becomes distressing in a matter of hours, as subdued frustrations, grudges, emotions surface immediately.
The story is utterly Hungarian and utterly contemporary, even though the current Hungarian state of affairs is barely touched upon, there are no great monologues on the topic of staying versus leaving, nobody gets loudly political, their conversation is mainly about the dirty family linen, and yet It’s Not the Time of My Life is an accurate snapshot. The intersection of set courses. Everything is present in the little there is to see: the inglorious return is as heart-wrenching as Ernella telling their hosts – who by the way are well-travelled and a lot wealthier – about life in Scotland, the otherness of the desired, but abandoned world. It was better there, Scotland is more agreeable and more spacious than Hungary, but they were unable to grasp the opportunity, they botched it up yet again. Cracks started to show where they least expected it: within the family. And this is in splendid juxtaposition with the relationship of Farkas and Eszter verging on divorce.
This is the strong suit of the film: a quick exposition of complicated and petrified relationships through a casual language, with irony that is at times acerbic, at other times soothing. (Its People’s Choice award at the Cinefest in Miskolc is no coincidence.) Another great forte of the film is the faces. It is the many repressed insults and grinding injustices that furrow the sad faces of Domokos Szabó and Erika Tankó (mainly the fact that the little sister’s family is so far ahead of them, and they also got more from the family inheritance), and the newest wrinkle is here already, as it is they who came home beaten with less money than when they had left. The faces of the self-confident city dwellers, Farkas and Eszter (Szabolcs Hajdu and Orsolya Török-Illyés) radiate their moral and intellectual high ground, sometimes shadowed by their own matrimonial unhappiness, as they have nowhere to escape from themselves but to their superciliousness. The closed space accentuates the complexity of the acting (Hajdu got the award for best actor in a leading role in Karlovy Vary), it enables the finest of gestures, as we see everything, nobody and nothing can remain hidden, the gaze of the camera is switching between restless and indifferent peeks into every crevice. But it is not only the fine gestures and twitches that are important, but also the already mentioned juxtapositions. Ernella and her husband need to borrow from the somewhat better-off relatives, who even ridicule their broke, loser kin, but before dinner it is Farkas’s wife who carefully cuts the napkins in half, as a symbol of pettiness and tight-fistedness.
The new movie of Szabolcs Hajdu is very knowledgeable about the (wo)man and the family caught in their own net. About cul-de-sacs made cosy. And this knowledge is presented without mercy but with depth, making one of the best Hungarian films of recent times. The only problem is perhaps its brevity, its short 81 minutes, and perhaps the end that is left way too open leaves some bitter aftertaste. As if the film was cut short with a blunt pair of scissors. But once outside the theatre the viewer must realize that this is merely his gluttony speaking, he wants to learn even more about lives gone or about to go off the rails. Whether the family dinner will smooth things out or lead to the final disaster. It is the viewer who cannot let go, just like a good book is hard to put down even after the last page.
(Translated by Péter Papolczy.)