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Titanic is the new "tough guy on the block" in Budapest

The “Titanic” international film festival, Budapest’s new “tough guy on the block” and the only real rival to the annual Hungarian Film Week for the attention of the large film buff community here, closed shop on April 13 with the screening of a spellbinding new Irish thriller “In Bruges”, and a closing gala party that lasted far into the night.

Now into its third year as a legitimate prize awarding international film festival, the “Titanic” festival in Budapest, while still modest in size, appears to be here to stay with all kinds of possibilities for expansion. The Hungarian capital is unquestionably one of the best cities in Europe, generally, for seeing a wide variety of international films of every kind at ordinary commercial cinemas, but, until the arrival of Titanic the only festival it had to offer was the annual Magyar Film “Szemle” or Hungarian Film Review, which is by definition limited to the showing of Hungarian films exclusively. Because of the international prestige which Hungarian cinema has enjoyed over the years, the Film Szemle does attract a fairly good sized contingent of foreign journalists, festival organizers, and the like every year, but other than that there is nothing international about it.

Mr. Horvath, aware of this yawning gap on the local film scene, first organized the showing of a selection of more off-beat foreign films, generally of the type that were less likely to be seen at the new cineplexes, back around 1996. Those early “Titanic” days, in spite of the expansive title adopted for the event, were anything but gigantic and were held in a couple of older movie theaters known for repertory programming (the Kossuth and the Toldi) where they were kind of squeezed in among the regular programs. Soon, however, Horvath had cultivated a considerable audience following and little by little Titanic, at first a kind-of informal, free-lance operation, began to take off. It is now backed by the ministry of culture and the mayor’s office, has picked up an array of well-heeled sponsors, puts out a respectable catalogue, and is really beginning to look like an authentic international film festival.

This year’s program of 65 films shown at four venues were divided into half a dozen thematic categories and only four were titles which will go out on general release in Hungary, so the festival provided local film fans with a real look into the kind of fare that is only to be gleaned at full-fledged international festivals. The festival opener was a big prestige picture from Hollywood, “3:10 to Yuma” starring Russell Crowe, but immediately after that it settled into a steady stream of quality pickings from around the globe, China, Japan (5 films), Kazakhstan, Vietnam, India, Iran, Ukraine, Russia, Poland, France, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Uruguay, a special section on new Mexican films, and a handful of recent American “indies”. Another American prestige film shown, just to sweeten the mix, was Paul Haggis’ Iraq war related “In the Valley of Elah”, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron. This is only Haggis’ second feature, but his first “Traffic”, won the Best Picture Oscar in Hollywood in 2004.

In addition there was a most interesting slate of documentaries including an 86 minute interview with Stephen Spielberg, entitled “Spielberg on Spielberg”, directed by
American TIME Magazine film critic Richard Schickel, and a new 2’45” documentary “Brando”, about the life and career of the Hollywood actor of legend, made by two women filmmakers, Mimi Freedman and Leslie Greif. This eye-opener features interviews with many people who worked with Brando such as Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, members of his family, and never-before-seen footage of his screen test for “Rebel Without a Cause” -- for the role that eventually went to James Dean!
Shown in a section for music devotees was a classic, rarely seen, early Bob Dylan documentary entitled “The other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival”. Filmed in 1965 by veteran documentarian Murray Lerner, this was the event at which young Bob alienated many of his fans by “going electric”. Also seen are Joan Baez and Judy Collins at their peak.

Arriving late in the week I didn’t get to see many films but I was impressed with the work of debuting American director, Jeff Nichols, “Shotgun Stories”, about a blood feud between two sets of half-brothers in rural Arkansas. Although there is nary a smile – nothing but glowering frowns, in this super-realistic redneckish revenge orgy where violence is constantly in the air, young director Nichols cannily refrains from showing the inevitable blood-letting directly on screen. At one crucial point where two guys are brutally beaten to within an inch of their lives, as the first blows fall he cuts to black --- the screen goes dark and stays that way for an agonizingly long number of seconds, then re-opens in the hospital. Smart filmmaking! This is a low budget film with a no-name cast but it is really well-made and sharply directed, and has already traveled far and wide on the festival circuit, from Berlin to Seattle with numerous stops in between. Bringing a film like this (and the director as well) to Budapest, one which introduces a new director well worth watching, is indicative of György Horváth’s savvy as a festival organizer and augurs well for future editions.

The closing film “In Bruges” was another eye-opener. Directed by Martin McDonagh and set almost entirely in the beautiful Belgian canal city of Bruges, this is one where it’s hard to tell whether it’s a violent comedy, or a spoof on violence, or a comical violence film about two hard-boiled Irish hit men on the lam in Belgium. Our hero, handsome Irish charmer Colin Farrell, sporting a heavy growth of five-o’clock shadow throughout and constantly lamenting the fact that he accidentally killed a little boy, is not above punching out a lady in a restaurant or karate chopping a poor midget who gets on his nerves –other than that he’s quite lovable. Ralph Fiennes (the onetime “English Patient”), comes in for possibly the most brutal role he’s ever played as the obsessed vengeful father of the departed lad, and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson (a veteran of the Harry Potter films) is also quite charming as the avuncular partner in crime of young Farrell. Guns galore and drugs like cocaine and LSD are taken for granted in this colorful criminal saga, and the city of Bruge itself is shown in its full glory, day and night. The music, incidentally, is extremely subtle with a quiet piano playing soothingly in the background of some of the most violent scenes. Very good music in its own right, and compliments to composer Carter Burwell, who does the music for all Coen Brothers flicks among others. Winding up with a breathtaking chase through the cobblestone streets of Bruges at night and a shootout on the canal, “In Bruges” literally leaves you breathless and needing a drink... and realizing that, whatever it was about, you just had one helluva romp and laughed a lot. The perfect bookend for a modest film festival in a major east-European capital.

The Urania theater which was the main venue for festival events and gala screenings deserves a word of its own. It is housed in a building of Baroque design and the main interior hall has a high vaulted ceiling with criss-crossing arches like a medieval cathedral with gilded balcony boxes all around. A most eye-appealing setting in which to watch films on a giant screen and the perfect setting for a film festival. In the future I would not be surprised to see some big name film celebrities walking the red carpet on Rakoczy Út out in front of the Urania. Big Brother up-town, the Magyar Film Szemle, by contrast, holds forth primarily in a modern shopping center cineplex (appropriately named the “Mammoth”) which has no real venue appropriate for galas. Move over Szemle –“Titanic” is the new tough guy coming down the block in Budapest.

PS: A film from Iceland, “Myrin-Jar City’ (“A desperate man is employed in a genetic research institute in a large city ...”) -- by 41 year old director Baltasar Kormákur, was awarded the 10,000 Euro “Breaking the Waves” prize and the director received his congratulations vocally by long-distance telephone, directly from the stage of the Urania as his face and stills from his films were flashed onto the big screen.

by Alex Deleon

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