54th Chicago Int’l Film Fest #19: “X – The eXploited” (Hungary)

“X – The eXploited” (Hungary)
Directed by Károly Ujj Mészáros

image-w1280Let me start out by saying that I am a huge proponent of Hungarian film. Last year I saw FOUR terrific Hungarian films, including eventual Oscar nominee, Ildiko Enyedi’s “On Body and Soul”, (Netflix) and my favorite film of 2017 in ANY language, Ferenc Török’s brilliant  “1945” (iTunes). SO when I saw that there was only one Hungarian entry at this year’s Festival, I imagined it must be fantastic!

Unfortunately, not so much. Mészáros, who is as well known for his commercial direction as he is for his features, is juuuust a little too in love with his ability to make everything look interesting, unique and uber-hip. Case in point? The opening credits. Consisting of upside down drone images of Budapest, intermixed with  basically the whole of the film’s first act. It’s gorgeous, breathtaking and magnetic. These few minutes made me very optimistic for the rest of the film. But that style is repeated in almost every transition. In fact, if you were to add up all those transitions, you’d probably have about 15% of the film’s running time. Doesn’t make it any less cool or gorgeous..just a tad tedious and very predictable.

And then there’s the story. It’s not bad. Yet, if you watch any European procedurals, you’ll likely have seen better. Granted, a film is not a series and, by its nature, must move at a much quicker pace. It’s not a simple murder plot, it’s effectively complex and mysterious. But even in its truncated format, it feels like it takes forever to get there. Why? Because the director has decided to utilize a sound effect to illustrate an emotional issue for a main character. And it is LOUD, and SHRILL, and LONG, and, fer chrissakes, WE GET IT! I quite literally had to close my ears by the second half of the film, whilst rolling my eyes, and sighing. More than a few times, other folks in attendance said out loud things like “not again!” or “make it stop!” That one directorial decision is almost enough for me to keep you away. And, within the plot, I can’t avoid mentioning that there are two mysterious characters who appear throughout and then, somehow, have absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the film. Bizarre.

But (and there are buts), it might be worth all that just to see Monika Balsai’s work. On par with Sofia Halin’s brilliant performance in “The Bridge,” and Olivia Coleman’s D.S. Elsie Miller from “Broadchurch”, Balsai is simply terrific, and about the only character that rises above procedural stock. I’ll be trying to find her other films now, including her last collaboration with Mészáros, “Liza the Fox Fairy”.

And it is about as gorgeous a film as you’ll ever see that’s so focused on the ugly underbelly of a city. Granted, he seems to have found every possible way to make Budapest look stark, steely and forbidding, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hypnotic. Not sure where the responsibility for that lies between the director and cinematographer, Martin Szecsanov, but it’s worthy of several technical awards. They seem to have fallen in love with that blue sheen that lightly envelops so many current procedurals (“Ozark”, “Girl In the Spider’s Web”, “Bosch”), but it’s subtle and it works for the film. And I’d mention the score, but I have no recollection of the music as my ears were ringing most of the time.

So, should you see it? Yeah, probably. If you like a good murder mystery, then definitely. But, for the love of Pete, don’t pump up the volume, or every dog in your neighborhood will be braying at your door. You’ve been warned.

Trailer is NSFW, btw…

Written on 11/10/2018

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