Dir.: Peter Bergendy; Cast: János Kulka, Zsolt Nagy, Péter Scherer, Gabriella Hámori; Hungary 2011, 89min.
Hungarian director Peter Bergendy has made a taut B-picture of Norbert Köbli’s script about the mechanics of the Hungarian Secret Service under Stalinism.
Bergendry previous feature, Post Mortem, screened at the 2021 London FrightFest, and will have another viewing at Tallinn Black Nights this November – so we’re not surprised to discover this is much more of a horror film than a thriller: the director actually majored in psychology with a thesis entitled ‘Psychology of the Horror Film’.
Set over twenty hours on December 24th, 1957 in Budapest, Andras Jung (Nagy) is a teacher of German and also a low level informer for the Hungarian Secret Service. A year after the failed uprising, the Secret Police is busy cleaning up their ranks, hunting down remaining sympathisers of Miklos Rakosi in particular. Senior officer Pal Marko (Kulka) is in charge of a unit testing Jung, Marko’s protégé. Marko had been exchanged during the war for a French spy and was greeted personally by NKDW chief Lavrenti Beria on his return.
The young Andras is in a relationship with Eva Gati (Hámori), who has fought the Secret Police during the uprising in the ‘battle’ of Corvin Lane. Or has she? We doubt her more and more, because Jung’s flat is full of surveillance microphones, his conversations are listened to by Marko and his fellow spies, one of them the sinister Emil Kulscar (Scherer) – and Jung himself tapes a conversation he has with Marko. All will be revealed at the end, when a grand inquisitor in the underground HQ of the Secret Police will listen to the testimonies of the trio, with Jung’s tape of his conversation with Marko playing a central role to determine who will be the victim of the charade.
Jung’s flat and the one rented by Marko and the Secret Service members are the main locations, and DoP Zsolt Tóth’s grim images of black and brown are symbolic for a feature, where even the snow in Budapest’s streets is made to look grey. There are beautifully dark images of the banks of the Danube, and the huge cars are looking more like tanks than automobiles. All of the protagonists are ambivalent, or hiding their true motives: to survive, one has to denounce friends or lovers, just to stay on the right side of the permanent shifting Party line. A desperate portrait of a society where lies are the common currency for staying alive, told sparsely and without any glimmer of hope or redemption. AS
COURTESY OF HUNGARIAN FILM CENTRE LONDON