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Review: Hungarian drama ‘The Citizen’ adroitly tackles global issues

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Wilson (Marcelo Cake-Baly) is a refugee who hires Mari (Tünde Szalontay) to tutor him for a Hungarian citizenship test, and they soon fall into a love complicated by family and government, in “The Citizen.”
(ArtMattan Films)

An involving, stacked deck of a story plus strong acting and a mix of vital themes combine to make “The Citizen” a solid drama about immigration, nationalism and survival in an often unforgiving world.

Wilson (Marcelo Cake-Baly) is a kindly, 50ish African émigré living in Budapest and working as a supermarket security guard. Although he wants Hungarian citizenship, he keeps failing the required constitutional studies test.

To that end, Wilson’s boss (Tünde Szalontay) suggests he hire her sister, Mari (Ágnes Máhr), a history teacher, and Wilson begins a series of helpful and edifying lessons.

At the same time, Wilson takes in Shirin (Arghavan Shekari), a pregnant young woman who fled troubles in Iran but, as an undocumented refugee, finds all new problems in Hungary. She soon gives birth — with Wilson’s impromptu help — and an unlikely temporary family is formed.

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But when Wilson and Mari fall for each other, Mari moves out from the home she shares with her husband and adult sons and in with Wilson and Shirin. After a brief honeymoon period, a pileup of inevitable conflicts ensue, with the haunted Wilson stuck between his allegiances to each woman.

The film, directed by Roland Vranik (script by Vranik and Iván Szabó), turns increasingly tough and unsettling, offering no easy answers as it poignantly and all-too-credibly explores desperation, bigotry and our need to love and belong. It couldn’t be timelier.

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‘The Citizen’

In Hungarian with English subtitles

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Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Playing: Starts July 27, Downtown Independent, Los Angeles

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