Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 17, 2018 5:11 pm 
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Sleuthing before the Nazis come

Éva Gárdos' period thriller Budapest Noir set in the Hungarian capital in 1936 is a bit timid at first. It hits its stride half way through when Zsigmond Gordon, the reporter who operates like a homicide detective, gets knocked out by the arm of a manikin wielded by Skublics, a photog who snaps prostitutes, for going too far - detecting connections high up. The starting point is a classy young dame on her uppers who charges dinner to Gordon, then turns up dead. She is a prostitute, two months pregnant, killed with a lethal kick in the stomach. But who is she, who did it, why? We will find out, and it will have something to do with Hungary's rapid movement toward antisemitism and fascism, and the fact that Fanny, AKA Judith, was in love with a boy who was decidedly Jewish. The book by Vilmos Kondor this movie is based on launched Gordon as the lead in a series of detective novels. He has an on-and-off girlfriend, Krisztina (Réka Tenki), a photographer.

All the events mesh well with the historical moment in Hungarian life and politics, but what recommends this conventional, even rather derivative, noir, is the beauty of the film and its enjoyable decorative texture. It's saturated with browns, maroons, golds, pale sunlight. The black Thirties sedans slither and gleam. We learn again why a satin slip was the sexiest thing. Every room has its own memorable lamps. And an important character higher up, a coffee baron, lives in modernistic splendor, with cactuses like egrets, an impossibly large, but beautiful, Kandinsky, and a view of the city out the windows. Backing it all up is an award-winning period- and genre-appropriate score offering melodies right for each scene, maintaining a quiet energy, even when the punching-bag protagonist, played by Krisztián Kolovratnik, is so battered he requires Krisztina to hold him up.


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