46*. BUBBLE BATH (1980)

Habfürdö, AKA Foam Bath

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“While it wasn’t a successful release, [Bubble Bath] now has all the qualities of a cult classic—riveting, unique, misunderstood, equal parts bizarre and brilliant, ahead of its time. It also fits into the category of surreal and psychedelic masterpieces from that era…”–Jennifer Lynde Barker, “Bubble Bath and the Animation of György Kovásznai,” in the booklet accompanying the Blu-ray release


DIRECTED BY: György Kovásznai

FEATURING: Voices of Kornél Gelley, Vera Venczel, Katalin Dobos; Albert Antalffy, Anna Papp, Katalin Bontovits (singers)

PLOT: In a panic, Zsolt drives to Anna’s apartment, begging her to call Klári, his fiancée and Anna’s co-worker, to call off his wedding, which is scheduled for later this afternoon. Anna reluctantly agrees to help, as the two find themselves becoming attracted to one another. When Klári suddenly arrives, in the company of a drunken boxer,  to whisk Anna to the wedding, things take a turn for the screwball when Zsolt hides by dressing up as a frogman.

Still from Bubble Bath (1980)


  • György Kovásznai was primarily a painter, but he made several surreal short films beginning in the 1960s. Habfürdö was his only completed feature. He died of leukemia in 1983 at the age of 49.
  • Habfürdö was only the third animated feature ever made in Hungary, and the first one not made for children and not based on an existing literary work. It flopped in its local release but was influential among animators, and later became acknowledged as a cult film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Things move too fast to pin down a single frame, but, although they’re depicted in multiple styles, what sticks in the mind most are the character designs: Zsolt with his wavy hair and bushy, wandering mustache, and (especially) Anna, with her black bra straps and round glasses that frequently glow with freaky patterns.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Psychedelic disco apartment; frogman down the drain

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although the story—a loose romantic comedy about a man having cold feet on his wedding day—is standard issue, this animated musical is thoroughly lysergic in its visuals, with the characters and scenery constantly morphing in stroboscopic wonderment. The entire film probably needs an epilepsy warning.

Restoration trailer for Bubble Bath

COMMENTS: Despite its relatively small size, Hungary’s contribution to the world of animation is tremendous. At its height, the national Pannónia Film Stúdió was considered one of the top five studios in the world, ranking only behind the Soviets, America’s Disney and Hanna-Barbera, and Japan’s Toei studios. Marcell Jankovics‘s 1981 psychedelic folktale Son of the White Mare [Fehérlófia] is a regarded as a masterpiece of the genre among those in the know. Even a low-tier American effort like Hugo the Hippo (1975) outsourced its animation to talented Hungarians, whose surrealistic tendencies proved a natural match for oddball kiddie fare. So the ground was fertile for an experimental modernist painter named György Kovásznai to enter the field, starting off with a series of acclaimed (if not particularly popular) shorts in the 60s and graduating to this, his only feature film, completed just before his death in 1983.

The opening credits feature Zsolt driving through a drizzly cartoon Budapest, but appears to be filmed through a glass windshield down which real water droplets stream, as the lens goes in and out of focus. It’s a unique mix of animation and in-camera effects which will recur throughout the film, notably at the end. What everyone immediately notices about Bubble Bath is how frequently the art styles change; Kovásznai rarely sticks to the same aesthetic for more than a few seconds at a time. He tests how far he can stray from the his characters’ base design (if there indeed are any) without losing their identities. We recognize Zsolt primarily through his bush black mustache, which is always on his face somewhere, although it meanders about his face changing shape and size. Zsolt’s bride-to-be is the steadiest caricature, with three stiff braids that stick out of her head at right angles. Anna is the most detailed character, recognizable by her round glasses and rounder bosoms, supported by ever-visible black bra straps. But besides these identifying features, the characters appear in styles ranging from Saturday morning cartoons to street artist caricatures to cubism to grotesques to underground comix, along with several art styles Kovásznai invents for the occasion. They could be anything from Picassos to Pink Panthers. This technique peaks with “Ultra-Modern,” a funky and flirtatious disco number where Anna’s apartment bobs and weaves to the beat in the background while Anna and Zsolt’s bodies warp with each note, forming increasingly abstract shapes as their figures pulse with mutating desires.

Bubble Bath‘s music isn’t as adventurous as its visuals, but János Másik’s score still takes a tour through jazz, showtunes, Hungarian folk melodies, and (mainly) disco-edged funk. There’s even a harmonica blues instrumental (with New Wave synth accompaniment), to which Anna dances in a bikini as she and Zsolt toss about a mutating beach ball. In other words, like the art, it’s an anything-goes melange.

It is easiest to see this as Anna’s story, not Zsolt’s. He’s essentially a comic character, but she has more depth—particularly due to her overriding desire to become a doctor, and the potential for her sudden attraction to the man in her apartment to derail that goal. Themes of domesticity dominate the tale’s background. We see a (rotoscoped) real Hungarian TV broadcast where the host discusses the state’s three-child-family ideal, and whether the new values of the “working woman” can be integrated with that population target. Cut to Anna reading her biology textbook—the section on reproduction, naturally. Around the film’s midpoint, the soundtrack suddenly features real interview subjects discussing their family lives: child rearing advice, breastfeeding debates, a girl declaring her undying love for her favorite toy, and so on. Like the TV spot, the intrusion of reality is fuel for both characters’ crucial decision about whether to start a family, or to focus on work. Zsolt must, to some extent, sideline his dreams of elevating his career as an artist if he gets married. But the main emphasis belongs on Anna and her romantic detachment (at one point, she jokingly refers to herself as an “old maid,” while at another she is described as a “beautiful spinster.”)  She is the dramatic counterpoint to Zsolt’s buffoonery, and therefore we take her decisions more seriously. And this is, after all, the feminist era, even in Hungary.

Even though the weak-kneed Zsolt is no prize, and the situation is contrived and absurd, we instinctively root for Anna and he to get together—simply because we spend so much time with them. The third act allows for surreal slapstick hijinks, as Zsolt hides from his fiancée by donning a frogman suit and swimming through the apartment pipes. It also allows Zsolt to eavesdrop on Klári as she tells Anna a secret, which would, in another plot, give him an out to dump her and pursue Anna. But that’s not what happens. Instead, we end on a bittersweet epilogue. Zsolt and Klári get married, an Anna takes a melancholy walk alone by the Danube, where everything she sees reminds her of lovers in an embrace. Later, she achieves her dream of becoming a doctor, and becomes the godmother to the happy couple’s child. The romantic leads’ brief attraction has faded into a biographical footnote. This is not the crowd-pleasing route a Hollywood film would take. Is it nevertheless a happy ending, though? In the film’s next-to-last last shot, Zsolt sits in a bathtub as he and his wife discuss Anna. He “stares” into the camera with no expression, as a (real) human hand enters the frame and pours bubble solution on him. (Real) bubbles then form, covering up his portrait completely, as we switch to the film’s last image, a smiling Anna bouncing her leg. Happy or sad? Your call.


“…visually something special; like Van Gogh, Fleischer Studios, Robert Crumb, Yellow Submarine and the abstract-thought section of Pixar’s Inside Out smooshed into a great lysergic battenberg cake… The crazed energy is irresistible.”–Betsy Reed, The Guardian

“Unique psychedelic Hungarian animation.”–Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

IMDB LINK: Habfürdö (1980)


A Season of Classic Films: Bubble Bath (Habfürdő) – A very meaty informational page on the film from the Association des Cinematheques Europeennes, including an embedded 8-minute documentary about the movie and more links

Foam Bath (Animation) – TV Tropes has an article on the film and the tropes contained within


With the film restored in 2021, the Deaf Crocodile Blu-ray presentation of Bubble Bath (buy) looks like it could have been printed yesterday. Film critic/historian Samm Deighan provides the commentary track. Minor extras include a seven-minute interview with composer János Másik and a peek at the restoration process. Most substantially, the disc includes five Kovásznai shorts, almost an hour of additional content. “Monologue” (1963) is a girl’s memories of her grandparents told in cutout animation; “Metamorphosis” (1964) shows a canvas portrait of a man and woman that changes before our eyes as new layers of paint are added; “Wavelengths” (1970) shows off Kovásznai’s abstract imagery, scored to random radio broadcasts; “Nights in the Boulevard” (1974) is a watercolor sketch of Budapest nightlife, with real-life interviews; and “A Memory of Summer” (1974) is a wildly eclectic series of animated paintings evoking summer fun, with a rock and roll soundtrack. All of these will fascinate students of the intersection of art and animation, and show a definite progression towards Bubble Bath.

Bubble Bath was not available for streaming or rental at the time of this review.

(This movie was nominated for review by russa03, who dubbed it “very trippy.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

Bubble Bath [Blu-ray]
  • First-ever U.S. release
Where to watch Bubble Bath

One thought on “46*. BUBBLE BATH (1980)”

  1. Aw, dang. I had this in my MUBI watchlist forever. But then they gutted the community side of their site, and I quit in a huff. Fudge. Will have to seek it out somewhere.

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