All posts by Gregory J. Smalley (366weirdmovies)

Gregory J. Smalley founded 366 Weird Movies in 2008 and has served as editor-in-chief since that time. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and his film writing has appeared online in Pop Matters and The Spool.

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

Recommended

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)

BACKGROUND:

  • 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 Continue reading 46*. BUBBLE BATH (1980)

CAPSULE: LA CHIMERA (2023)

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La Chimera is currently available to purchase on VOD (more rental/streaming options available later).

DIRECTED BY: Alice Rohrwacher

FEATURING: Josh O’Connor, Carol Duarte,

PLOT: An Englishman in Italy with a mystical talent for discovering burial plots joins a group who traffic in ancient Etruscan artifacts while brooding over his lost love.

Still from La Chimera (2023)

COMMENTS: If nothing else, La Chimera‘s milieu is unique: a ragtag gang of modern tomb raiders, trading in a black market for Etruscan artifacts. We first meet Arthur (a slovenly, rakishly melancholy Josh O’Connor) in mid-dream, as he remembers the woman whose absence will lurk in the background of the rest of the picture like a ghost. Arthur, an Englishman who speaks passable Italian, has just been released from jail, and he soon reluctantly returns to his gang and their old racket: digging up ancient pottery for resale on the black market. They need Arthur because of his preternatural ability to locate old burial grounds, which he can do with a diving rod like he was dowsing for water. The crew is motivated by money, but Arthur, we are told, investigates the tombs because he believes he can find a legendary door that leads to the afterlife. Besides his crew, Arthur hangs out with Flora (Rosselini), an old friend who lives in a decaying villa. There he meets the oddly-named Italia (Duarte), a tone-deaf maid who shows an interest in the handsome brooding stranger. Will she be able to spark new life in him, or will he continue descending into graves?

La Chimera is a European-style drama, more focused on character than plot. It wanders about, in no hurry to get to the point, but rather allowing us to soak in the characters for 130 minutes. Rohrwacher enlivens the stroll with assays into multiple (not always congruent) styles, including a smattering of magical realist touches. She provides changes in film stocks, digital undercranking for comic montages, fourth wall breaks, a Felliniesque festival where the gang’s males dress in drag, an outlaw folk song about the “tombaroli” (grave robbers), and an affecting dream on a train where Arthur faces up to some supernatural ethical dilemmas. There is also a repeated vertical pan that always ends with O’Connor upside-down, to simulate the vertigo that accompanies a successful divination. But despite these touches, La Chimera hews close to the standard art-house drama formula. It is, to a large extent, a meditation on death; with tomb-raiding as a plot point, it would have to be. But it seems somewhat unsure as to what it wants to say on the topic. Arthur struggles with a death wish, which is something of an addiction for him, so perhaps it’s an ersatz cinematic take on Keats: “Ode on an Etruscan Urn.”

La Chimera has been receiving near universal praise from critics, as did Rohrwacher’s previous magical realist drama, Happy as Lazzaro. I must confess that the director hasn’t won me over yet, and I have difficulty figuring out what all the fuss is about. She’s a  craftswoman who wields cinematic techniques competently, but with no strong auteurial stamp. That’s not to say her films aren’t thoughtful and well put together; they just fail to stand out from the art-house pack.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Strange, aesthetically gorgeous and profound, La Chimera is ultimately just as unknowable as the liminal space that it protagonist inhabits within it.”–Tanner Gordon, Spectrum Culture (contemporaneous)