Tag Archives: Hungarian

281. HUGO THE HIPPO (1975)

Hugó, a Víziló

“If you accept a strange story told to you as true,

Then a certain enlightenment comes to you.”

Hugo the Hippo theme “It’s Really True” (as sung by Marie Osmond)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bill Feigenbaum, József Gémes

FEATURING: Voices of , Burl Ives, Ronnie Cox, Robert Morley

PLOT: The Sultan of Zanzibar kidnaps a herd of African hippopotami and relocates them to Arabia to defend his harbor from sharks. After the shark menace is ended and the city prospers, the citizens forget about the hippos, until one day the hungry herds’ excursion to eat local farmers’ crops leads the Sultan’s evil Vizier Aban-Khan to organize a slaughter of the beasts. Only the youngest, Hugo, escapes; he flees to Dar es Salaam and makes friends with the local children, but Aban-Khan continues to hunt him out of pure malice.

Still from Hugo the Hippo (1975)

BACKGROUND:

  • The story is inspired by an actual hippo nicknamed “Hugo”, who ate farmers’ crops before being adopted by the real Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam.
  • The film was a Hungarian/U.S. co-production. All of the animation was done on the cheap in Hungary. It was released dubbed into both languages.
  • Hugo the Hippo is co-writer/director Bill Feigenbaum’s only film credit. József Gémes went on to direct many Hungarian animated features.
  • Young Marie and Jimmy Osmond perform most of the songs on the soundtrack, along with two songs by Burl Ives and two numbers by jazz/funk session bands.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It has to be something from the wild vegetable hallucination montage: the apple samurai? Jorma and Hugo climbing onto the space butterfly and sailing through the fruity cosmos? We selected the Dalí-esque shot of three massive monolith potatoes triangulating and transfixing our heroes with the magical beams that shoot from their literal eyes as our take-home image.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Cigarette-smoking shark; cloud massacre; sliced apple ninja

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Hugo the Hippo was released to widespread indifference. Contemporary reviewers were bored and strangely dismissive, failing to catch the undercurrent of weirdness here, but a generation of youngsters scarred by the hippopotamus massacre kept Hugo‘s underground legend alive. The combination of kitschy songs, psychedelic animation, bizarre plotting, tone shifts, hallucinatory episodes, and the inimitable Paul Lynde as an evil hippo-hating vizier blend to create a children’s film gone awry in all the most delightful ways.


Short clip from Hugo the Hippo

COMMENTS: We might adopt the lyrics from the opening Continue reading 281. HUGO THE HIPPO (1975)

CAPSULE: WHITE GOD (2014)

 Fehér isten

DIRECTED BY: Kornél Mundruczó

FEATURING: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér

PLOT: A young girl is separated from her beloved mutt after her father refuses to pay a new tax on mixed breeds; the dog is thrown into the streets of Budapest and becomes the leader of a wild pack that terrorizes the city.

Still from White God (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough. It’s only the bookend opening and closing scenes that really approach the lunatic.

COMMENTS: White God begins with a scene of a young girl pedaling her bicycle through the streets of Budapest, which is depopulated as though in a dream; suddenly, a pack of two-hundred fifty dogs appears from around a corner, loping behind her in slow motion. It’s a startling, half-surreal image, but the movie takes some time to get back to anything approaching its power. Post-credits, we flash back to the beginning of the story to get our narrative bearings: Lili, a young musician just embarking on womanhood, and her mutt Hagen are inseparable pals, but trouble arises when the girl has to spend the summer with her dog-hating father in his Budapest apartment. Hagen is a hassle, and to make things worse the city has enacted a blatantly allegorical tax on half-breed dogs. After Hagen makes a nuisance of himself, the father kicks the cur to the curb in a fit of pique.

So far the film has been a drama, but with this development it begins shifting genres. For a while as we follow Hagen’s adventures in the alone in the big city, meeting other strays and evading dogcatchers, it seems like this will be a live action lost pet family flick a la Benji. Things turn far darker and distinctly un-Disney, however, as Hagen finds his instinctual trust in the beneficence of humans is unwarranted. The scenes of animal cruelty that follow, while clearly simulated and intended as social criticism, will make this film all but unwatchable for some animal lovers. Interspersed with Hagen’s journeys are the parallel adventures of Lili, who continues to search for her beloved pet but also starts to take an interest in boys. Things take a stranger turn when Hagen escapes captivity and organizes a pack of feral strays into a force for vengeance against his human oppressors; the movie becomes a canine version of The Birds, with dogs running through the streets, slamming themselves into car windows as women scream, trapped in their vehicles.

To its credit, White God handles these multiple shifts in tone and genre well, and wears its absurd premise lightly. And yet, the movie is not entirely successful, mainly because its human characters aren’t as interesting or impressive as its animals. Although the core story of a girl’s love for her dog is inherently moving, the scenes of Lili alone are not warranted as anything other than a break from the tension of poor Hagen’s abuse at human hands. White God spends too much time with its people; but what you will remember about it is the hundreds of dogs rampaging through the streets of Budapest, a feat of practical animal choreography that has never been attempted on this scale before. It’s no wonder that the DVD’s extra features treat chief animal trainer Teresa Ann Miller with almost as much reverence as director Mundruczó; if there were an Academy Award for best animal stunts, White God would be a shoo-in.

The title “White God” is somewhat mysterious. It evokes ‘s 1982 flop White Dog, a moral allegory about the deprogramming of an albino German Shepherd trained by white supremacists to attack blacks. Just as the letters in the two title nouns are transposed, the plot arc here is the mirror image of Fuller’s film: God‘s canine progresses from domesticated to vicious. The title also refers to the way dogs look at humans as godlike beings, and, furthermore, to the old European ideal of “whiteness” as representing genetic purity and perfection. I have no idea whether these meanings come across in the Hungarian title “Fehér isten,” or whether that title includes its own untranslated puns or wordplay, although this information is as unnecessary to appreciating the film as is understanding the specific Hungarian political references Mundruczó may be making here.

White God won the “Un Certain Regard” prize (given to “original and different” movies) at Cannes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

White God is a strange beast. Director Kornel Mundruczo has created a beautiful and bizarre film that veers between gritty realism and haunting fantasy…”–Lucy Barrick, Radio Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Brad,” who called it “not the strangest film ever, but definitely something to take a look at.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: 1 (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Pater Sparrow

FEATURING: Zoltán Mucsi, László Sinkó, Vica Kerekes, Pál Mácsai

PLOT: When all the rare books in a bookstore are mysteriously replaced by an anonymous book titled “1,” the “Reality Defense Council” steps in to investigate.

Still from 1 (2009)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: 1 aggressively aligns itself with the irrational by making a fascistic institution dedicated to the defense of reality into its chief villain. It’s a professionally made little sleeper of a movie with some outrageously bold and inventive ideas; it would fit comfortably alongside other candidates on the List. Better visibility would help its case.

COMMENTS: 1 is a partial adaptation of the short story “One Human Minute” by the Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem (who also wrote the novel on which Solaris was based). The story was a fictional review of a fictional book that purported to describe, in voluminous statistical tables, all of human activity that occurs on Earth during one minute’s time (including, for example, the suicide totals, subdivided into the number of hangings, gunshots, and so forth, reports on gallons of blood spilled and sperm ejaculated, etc.). The original story may seem like an insanely ambitious project, but, although 1 quotes extensively from “One Human Minute” and illustrates Lem’s sardonic prose with extensive stock footage montages, the film takes the idea merely as its launching pad. 1, the movie, posits that “1,” the book described by Lem, has been published by some godlike force, and that it has a mystical power to drive men mad. The book appears in a rare bookstore one day, replacing every other volume on the shelf. The store is locked down by a detective and the four people who were present during the event—the wealthy owner, the beautiful clerk, a mute janitor, and an elderly customer who is a “citizen of the Vatican”—are sequestered for questioning. Eventually a copy of “1” finds its way into the streets and is uploaded to the Internet. Those who read the book riot. Meanwhile, the quartet of suspects is whisked away to a government installation/dolphin habitat run by the Reality Defense Institute, where they are drugged and interrogated. Then pears start showing up everywhere. Then things get a little weird. 1 covers a lot of ground: formally, it’s a dark and dystopian parody of a police procedural with surrealist touches, and the original novella’s warning about humanity being swallowed up by statistics is still there. But more than anything 1 seems to be about the notion that reality is subjective, taking the idea that we can do whatever we can imagine to literal extremes. To me, that’s not that inspiring or original of a philosophical concept; then again, so few movies have any ideas at all that it hardly seems fair to criticize 1 for having a weak one. What really matters isn’t the novelty of the idea but of the execution, and here 1 is a winner: it’s constantly fresh, surprising and amusing. It’s clever to see reality grilling imagination in an interrogation room. It’s bizarre when a government agent tears down a poster of a pear, but doesn’t notice that by doing so he has just revealed a real pear hidden in a recess of the wall. The entire notion of a government-sponsored “Reality Defense Institute” dedicated to investigating and prosecuting offenses against reality is a beautiful mockery. 1 is baffling, but its surprises are almost always rewarding. It’s 1, weird movie.

Perhaps ironically, 1 is not available on DVD (or any other format) in Region 1. There is a Spanish Region 2 DVD out there somewhere. According to director Sparrow, “…the main production house, Honeymood Films, for reasons unfamiliar to me stayed aloof from the dvd release… since the distributional rights belong to them, the only thing that I can do is to accept the fact that my first feature will not be officially released on dvd.” This being the digital age, 1 can still be seen by those with rudimentary Google skills (with the director’s blessing). Sparrow has moved on and is currently working on a second feature, Heartsnatcher, an adaptation of a Boris Vian novel.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Reminiscent of the works of Peter Greenaway (especially 1980’s The Falls) in its vast referential breadth, its mannered blurring of fact and fiction, and the beauty of its tableau-like images, this fever dream of a film conjures up the ineffable presence of God alongside the whiff of dog turd, and defies viewers to determine for themselves both what’s what and what it’s all about.”–Anton Bitel, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “tranqilo.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

SATANTANGO (1994)

Bela Tarr’s Satantango (1994) is a seven and half hour long, glacially paced, acerbic adaptation of László Krasznahorkai’s novel. It is the second of four films in which Tarr has collaborated with Krasznahraki as writer, beginning with Damnation (1988) and most recently The Turin Horse (2011).

Tarr is frequently and aptly compared to . Like Tarkovsky, Tarr’s films require intelligence and patience. At this length, Tarkovsky may seem hyperkinetic, particularly to Western viewers. Yet, patience reaps a rich spiritual reward. Indeed, Tarr may be the most spiritually intuitive filmmaker since Tarkvosky, Bresson, and Dreyer.

In certain ways Satantango is comparable to composer Morton Feldman’s six-hour string quartet. Dissonance, pauses, and silence, mixed with humor and desolation cast a shimmering, hypnotic spell. The monochromatic humor of Satantango lingers on in the consciousness, demanding viewer concentration. Despite, and because of, its challenges, it is best viewed in a single setting.

The opening is akin to a prolonged overture: a ten minute, continuous tracking shot of cows wandering aimlessly through a barren village, setting the bleak, avant tone. The film is broken down into twelve episodic movements: the twelve steps of a tango. Savage canines, unrelenting rain, wretched peasants and magnetic charlatans are the town’s muddy occupants. Never has mud seemed so simultaneously visceral and ethereal. Never has a tango been presented as so relentlessly static.

Still from Satantango (1994)In one of most unsettling moments in the entirety of cinema, a young girl (Eirka Bok) torments and poisons her cat (yes, it was staged) before she samples the poison herself. Architectural facades and soaked, dilapidated concrete slabs adorn the film like mildew from relics of Christmases past.

Much of Satantango is filmed in long, continuous takes in real-time. A five-minute tracking shot follows two characters besmirched with trash from a blowing wind. Tarr’s camera envelops seven sleeping characters while the narrator describes their dreams. The devil’s tango is “plodding, plodding, plodding” like a hysterical, whimsical apocalypse homing in on the dying breaths of Hungarian communism. Its denizens face their slide into oblivion with an inebriated stupor, moving like the overture’s lethargic herd. Tarr’s camera details “the logic of life” with gorgeous precision, memorializing the villagers’ moribund aimlessness. They will go down scheming, defiantly mocking western capitalism’s attention deficit disorder.

There is tension aplenty in the arrival of a resurrected messiah, and so the film is indeed as much about its duration as it is about narration. Thankfully, Tarr keeps his narrative structure diaphanous. Opacity would have rendered it lifeless. Everything is caught in Tarr’s courageously mundane odyssey: buzzing flies, raspy coughs, and repetitively ticking clocks are beautifully preserved in celluloid amber. The Jonah-like prophet (Mihaly Vig) proves to be as dubious a hope as the political systems Tarr so mercilessly parodies.

The final shot, of the doctor boarding up a window, methodically removing every vestige of light, is replete with multifarious meanings. Satantango has an innovative texture. It is experiential rather than narrative. It is also startlingly visionary and postmodern, reminding us that the medium of film is a relatively young one with boundless potential.

76. KONTROLL (2003)

“I had something in mind for most of the scenes and images in the film and almost without fail, people have interpreted those moments differently… What I’ve really learned in this process is that it doesn’t really matter what I think I’m doing, that’s the beauty of it really, that once it’s out and there are all these hundreds of other eyes trained on it, it becomes a conversation.”–Director Nimród Antal on symbolism in Kontroll

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nimród Antal

FEATURING: Sándor Csányi, Eszter Balla, Bence Mátyássy, Gyözö Szabó, Lajos Kovács, György Cserhalmi

PLOT: Bulcsú, a Budapest metro transit cop, copes with eccentric passengers and incompetent coworkers as he pursues a veiled serial killer.  Living and sleeping in the tunnels, Bulcsú is bullied by tormentors, chases gang members, dodges trains and follows a mysterious girl as he tracks a murderer who pushes passengers under speeding engines.  As the killings continue unabated, suspicion eventually turns toward Bulcsú himself.

Still from Kontroll (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Director Nimród Antal was born in Los Angeles (of Hungarian ancestry) and moved to Hungary to study filmmaking at the Hungarian Academy of Drama and Film. He made his first feature film, Kontroll, then returned to the U.S. to direct conventional Hollywood products, most recently Predators (2010).
  • The city of Budapest allowed Antal access to the subway system to shoot the film during the five hours per night the trains did not run.  A man claiming to be the Director of the Budapest Metro appears in a prologue to the film to stress that Kontroll is a work of fiction and that real Metro employees do not behave in the ways depicted.
  • Kontroll won the Prix de la Jeunesse (Prize of the Young) at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. It was the first Hungarian film to screen at Cannes in twenty years.
  • Antal cited Andrei Tarkovsky, Stanley Kubrick, Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese, and Beat Takeshi as influences on Kontroll.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The most enduring image is a metaphor for the troubled Bulcsúis’s transcendence.  The kontroller hides in the underground sanctuary from the real world above. But the outside is only a symbol.  Bulcsúis is really seeking refuge from himself and his feelings.  Uncertain about his own emotions, and lacking in confidence, avoiding the world above is his way of postponing self-confrontation.  What then, can be more symbolic of his waiting deliverance than the symmetrical image of the great, silvery, central escalator leading to the bright lights and certain reality of the surface?  Bulcsú knows he must eventually ascend it but he has not yet the courage to face that eventuality.  Will his love for the mysterious, bear-costumed Szofi become the key to unlocking his emotions and freeing himself?

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Kontroll is a fantasy that stands alone in its enigmatic singularity.


Original English language trailer for Kontroll

The film craftily assimilates drama, suspense and social satire into a multifaceted story in the unusual setting of an Old World subway.  Director Antal surprisingly succeeds at combining an unlikely set of plot elements.  He decants the chaos of social rambunctiousness, the absurdity that entails when authority dictates regulation at the simplest levels of its jurisdiction, and a survey of attitudes and life’s daily ironies into an imaginative story.  The resulting integration creates a unique, alternative viewing experience.

COMMENTS:  Hydraulics hiss, rails clatter, and trains blast at high speeds in the dimly lit, Continue reading 76. KONTROLL (2003)

56. TAXIDERMIA (2006)

“Just as the body is overcome by desire, so naturalism is overcome by surrealism…”–György Pálfi, director’s statement to Taxidermia

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: György Pálfi

FEATURING: Csaba Czene, Gergö Trócsányi, Marc Bischoff

PLOT:  Three short stories exploring three perverted generations, beginning with an extremely horny soldier in the private service of a lieutenant.  His illegitimate child grows up to become a sport eater on the Hungarian national squad.  The grandchild is a socially inept taxidermist who cares for his grumpy, obese father and his caged cats.

Still from Taxidermia (2006)

BACKGROUND:

  • This was Pálfi’s second movie, after the just-as-weird but much gentler Hukkle.
  • The first two segments of the film are based on short stories by writer Lajos Parti Nagy.  Pálfi wrote the third episode himself.
  • While working on Taxidermia, Pálfi won the 2004 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award, a $10,000 grant intended to be used to help the filmmaker create his next project.  The grant includes a promise for Japanese distribution for the completed film (estimated value: $90,000).

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  A man ejaculating a torrent of flame.  (Don’t worry, you won’t have to watch long to catch this sight).

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  By itself, the middle section of the triptych of stories—


English language trailer for Taxidermia

concerning the competitive eater with Olympic dreams—would have made a decidedly odd movie.  Flank that tale with stories of a WWII soldier with a hallucinatory libido and a taxidermist with demented aesthetics, stir with surrealism and garnish with grotesquerie, and you have one of the 366 Weirdest Movies of all time.

COMMENTS: Taxidermia will almost break the needle on your “I never thought I’d see Continue reading 56. TAXIDERMIA (2006)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: KONTROLL (2003)

Kontroll has been upgraded to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time. Please visit the full certified weird entry for Kontroll for comments and deeper coverage of the film.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nimród Antal

FEATURING: Sándor Csányi, Bence Mátyássy, Eszter Balla, Gyözö Szabó, Lajos Kovács, and György Cserhalmi

PLOT: A Budapest metro transit cop copes with eccentric passengers and coworkers as he

Still from Kontroll (2003)

pursues a veiled serial killer.  Living and sleeping in the tunnels, Bulcsú is bullied by tormentors, chases gang members, dodges trains and follows a mysterious girl as he tracks a murderer who pushes passengers under speeding engines.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Kontroll is a fantasy that stands alone in its enigmatic singularity.  The film craftily assimilates drama, suspense and social satire into a multifaceted story in the unusual setting of an Old World subway.   Director Antal surprisingly succeeds at combining an unlikely combination of plot elements.  He decants the chaos of social rambunctiousness, the absurdity that entails when authority dictates regulation at the simplest levels of its jurisdiction, and a survey of attitudes and life’s daily ironies into an imaginative story.  The resulting integration presents a unique, alternate viewing experience.

COMMENTS:  Hydraulics hiss, rails clatter, and trains blast at high speeds in the dimly lit, neural convolutions of the Budapest underground.  A man runs for his life through a tunnel between two trains.  A hooded figure emerges from cracks in the wall to launch the unwary under oncoming subway cars.  A puzzling girl (Balla) haunts the maze-like passages disguised as a bear.  Ticket inspectors engage in madcap jousts and chases with each other when they are not comically pursuing a colorful assortment of freeloading ruffians.  A host of eccentric characters cavort and couple in a subterranean round-table of flickering signal lamps, iron Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: KONTROLL (2003)