Dir. Judit Elek

All happy families are happy in the same way, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. That is the case in Judit Elek’s movie. The Romanian and the Swedish families have very little in common. What could a Transylvanian forester and a respectable West-European lady have in common? Nothing. And still at some point they start the inexorable movement towards each other from points “A” and “B”, traversing the frontiers… Do they want this meeting? No. But… It depends… Will they meet? No. Though…

Judit Elek is one of the most experienced Hungarian directors (she began filming in the 50s and is considered a representative of the “first generation” of the founders of Hungarian cinema). She ventured to experiment on a large scale, juxtaposing three epochs, three worlds on the screen – Hitler occupation, the West and developed socialism. The latter is taken in its most flagrant form familiar from the usual first-hand stories: when Perestroika was under way in the USSR, Soviet people, who came to Bucharest and tried to talk to the “aborigines” in the way they had already got used to on TV, they met with horrified glances and fingers pointing at the ceilings in the hotels, which meant that everything was bugged.

The movie is set long before the Soviet Perestroika, in 1980. Katherine, a Jew of Hungarian-Romanian origin living in Sweden ventures to come to Transylvania, which she had left at the age of 7. She was taken to the death camp and miraculously survived: her relatives dismantled the floor in the freight car, but only a child could squeeze through the opening…

Almost everything in this country reminds Katherine of a Holocaust, it might even seem that the director indulges in flashbacks. The border guard turns into a Gestapo soldier (while the curt, barking noises in the background prove to be a football broadcast and not the Führer’s speech); people lying along the walls in the dark bring back a lot of memories, but it is a usual socialist hotel: no more rooms and the lights are out. When after all the dramatic events on the Romanian soil the car with the Swedish number plates crosses the roadway barrier, Katherine’s little daughter asks: “Is it OK to sing now?” and hears the answer: “Yes, now everything is OK”.

Meanwhile the forester Teletski does not yield to his wife’s entreaties and refuses to beget a child: “I don’t want to make babies for them, I don’t want my son to become a murderer”. At the same time it is for “them” that he himself prepares the hunting ground, for Ceausescu who is due to shoot bears here. And the moment you think about the paradoxical notion of “murder” in the context (in a few years the opponents of the regime will themselves finish off the Ceausescus), the forester’s rifle fires and soon Teletski is wanted for double murder. Evidently paradoxes of the 20th century cannot be understood without Shakespearean plot twists.

Igor Saveliev