Friday July 5, 1996
In 1990, Hungary's Ildiko Enyedi made a stunningly witty and original debut with "My Twentieth Century," which is no less than a consideration of what the 20th century has meant for society as a whole and women in particular.
Now Enyedi returns with "Magic Hunter," which is just as ambitious, dazzling and rewarding but, as a highly elliptical narrative, considerably more daunting. Be prepared to concentrate on this film.
It would have been helpful had the distributor prepared us for this droll and wondrous film by using as a preface Enyedi's remarks: "We people living today have done all we can to put ourselves in mortal danger and only a miracle can save us. The problem is that we believe in everything but miracles. And the solution, the escape from the trap which we have built for ourselves, is our past, our culture, if only we could read it."
In dipping into the past, Enyedi comes up with a European fairy tale about a hunter who falls heir to seven magic bullets--they must have been arrows way back when--that can never fail to miss their target; the only hitch is that the devil gets to choose the seventh target. In her present-day fable, her hero is Max (Gary Kemp), the best marksman on the Budapest police force, who inadvertently shoots a young woman he's trying to protect.
We don't learn for quite some time whether her wound was fatal or not, but in the meantime Max is in hot water until a colleague (Peter Vallai) slips him some bullets that will guarantee his success in a crucial official testing of his marksmanship on the shooting range. His pal slips him a couple more magic bullets, which he thoughtlessly wastes until he's down to that fateful No. 7.
When Max is assigned to protect Maxim (Alexander Kaidanovsky), a visiting Russian chess master who by chance meets and is beguiled by Max's wife (Sadie Frost), Enyedi commences a series of initially confounding flashbacks tracing the dawn of Christianity, a time when the people grafted the concept of the Virgin Mary onto the pagan goddesses they worshiped. Ever so gradually, past and present come into an inspired and whimsical confrontation.
In her effortless style and bemused, detached tone, Enyedi brings to mind the late Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski; both tell stories with a camera with a complete, easy naturalness but with that characteristic Eastern European sense of absurdity. "My Twentieth Century" is a more ambitious variation on Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique," while "Magic Hunter" plays like an addition to his celebrated Tricolor Trilogy.
Even though Kemp, first famous as the co-leader of the new wave band Spandau Ballet, and Frost, who both appeared in Peter Medak's "The Krays," are English, "Magic Hunter" is in Hungarian, with these two stars presumably dubbed. In any event, they are both highly effective: Kemp's Max is tense, perhaps a bit smug, while Frost's Eva is a freer, more relaxed spirit.
Kaidanovsky's Maxim comes across as a gracious man very comfortable with himself, a complete contrast to the actor's haunted title role character in Andrei Tarkovsky's masterful "Stalker." Sadly, Kaidanovsky, a key Russian star of stage and screen, died at 49 of a heart attack last December.
Magic Hunter, 1996. Unrated. A Shadow Distribution release of a David Bowie presentation on an Alliance International release. Director Ildiko Enyedi. Producers Andras Hamori, Wieland Schulz-Keil.. Executive producers Susan Cavan, David Bowie, Robert D. Goodale. Screenplay by Enyedi, Laszlo Laszlo Revesz. Cinematographer Tibor Mathe. Editor Maria Rigo. Costumes Gyorgyi Szakacs. Music Gregorio Paniagua. Production designer Attila Ferenczfy-Kovacs. Set dresser I Laszlo Makai. Set dresser II Agnes Menyhart. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes. In Hungarian and Russian, with English subtitles. Gary Kemp as Max. Sadie Frost as Eva. Alexander Kaidanovsky as Maxim. Peter Vallai as Kaspar.