I wanted to begin my review about Szabolcs Hajdú’s film Off Hollywood (before I had seen it, on the basis of the trailer and others, such as an interview, I had already considered what the structure of the text could be – but that’s enough of my shameful working techniques!) by writing about self-reflexive movies and analyzing some books on film-production and film-makers written not solely for the profession, and when I finally come to the Hungarians, I will refer to Hajdú’s film, somewhere after Déryné, hol vagy?, I suppose (or at least that is what I thought then).
However, it became clear immediately after the first scene of the film that I would not be able to review Off Hollywood this way. This method would lead to nowhere (only perhaps to misinterpretations), since Off Hollywood is a great achievement for a different reason, and the fact that the main character is a female director, a certain Adél Bódi, is a factor of secondary importance only. Hajdú winks at film gourmands more than once during the film, that is why it is not by accident that the director is called Bódi and Adél (although the fact that it is Adél is really insignificant). I could use the several allusions as the starting point, such as the Tarkovsky-painting on the wall of Bódi’s flat, or the title of the director’s film: Nem, hanem…, since it bears a rather nice reference to the unfinished, yet completed Fellini-film 8 és fél, but also the scandalous poster of Nem, hanem… (which replies to the poster of Off Hollywood), but from either of these starting points (I believe) I would fail to get to the final scene, the solution of the film.
I would not be able to find an explanation as to who or what Adél is escaping from, because it is becoming more and more unambiguous (and the more so as I read the reviews of the film) that she is not fleeing from the sad reality, the current situation of the Hungarian film industry or herself. I do not agree with what all the competent critics have said so far, that Hajdú’s film is a bitter or disappointed film (which suggests the disillusionment of the generation, that of Simó’s class), but of course, I do not think that it is a light-hearted comedy either that offers easy entertainment.
Earlier in the movie, Ms Bódi, the director, is running across Izabella Bridge, heading towards the deeper parts of the capital’s 6th district. At the end of the film, she is hurrying along the streets mindlessly, as if she wanted to run out of the world. She is not too far from the place of her early morning jog, running down the stairs of Skála Metro department store, along Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Road and in the end she collapses. As a matter of fact, this jog carries the essence of jogging as such, just like the running scenes of great movies, e.g. the races in Chariots of Fire, or the trainings in the Loneliness of A Long-distance Runner: this fanatic runner wants to leave the depressing environment. The runner is not running away from problems, but from the constraints of self-fulfillment.
Adél Bódi is not shooting a film, but she is preparing for the premier of her completed movie. That is why Off Hollywood cannot be regarded as a self-reflexive film, since it does not represent the process of creation or the dilemmas of the creator: the fact that the central character of the movie is a film director is in fact misleading. There might be biographical elements in the film, because the personal factor cannot be excluded, yet Hajdú’s film is not an art film. The fact that the leading character could be identified with the director or there are recognizable parallels between Hajdú and Adél Bódi’s life (because both of them left their spouses out of their most successful film) is unimportant.
Theoreticians, and especially the critics of the tabloid press say about the end of the film that Adél had a panic attack and she aims to let go of her throng by running, and she is actually running away from the unbearable situation of Hungarian film-makers. This, however, is hardly possible, because panic attacks are not triggered by a situation, an unpleasant scene or stage fright, but they come unexpectedly, under absolutely relaxed circumstances. The attack comes as a surprise, and its essence lies in the fact that the serious, heart attack like symptoms of the patient keep on recurring, he is short of breath, suffers from breathlessness, trembles, sweats and has nausea. The panic patient (just like Adél) is afraid of going insane, of death and of losing herself. The illness of the heroine can be better described as status or position throng, if we wish to seek a psychological, more scientific explanation. This sickness attacks those who believe that they do not deserve the situation or the position they are in (although they obtained it through long and hard struggle), but it also affects people who do not think they can do their job well, and are afraid of getting caught. They dread that it may come to light that the area they are regarded to be the experts of is in fact not their field, and they have nothing to do with it. Directors (more than often) also feel that everything gets out of hand, and they cannot handle the situation. They do not believe that they are in the right place, they think this is not their cup of tea at all.
The film is set in one day, a really horrible day. As horrible as the city of Budapest itself. Dull faces, dull neighborhoods, traffic jams, jostling people in the streets, vinegar smelling pubs, bored bartenders wiping the counter. This rather depressing world is the world of Mónika Show spectators, who live only two blocks away from here.
Off Hollywood could be seen as a city film, but Budapest has never been so ugly on film. Where Adél Bódi is running is not the most glamorous part of the city. We cannot see the Christmas lights in Andrássy Street, only the grey, run-down areas of the inner city, districts that are as bitter as the smell of low taverns. The characters in the film are only loitering about, as if without any purpose – they are not heading anywhere. Budapest is a disgusting place here. Adél Bódi’s tortures begin on a dirty autumn morning. In this film Budapest looks as if left by the good luck of metropolises, like in the case of Balkan cities or Chinese towns, as if there was no one to control its development, as if the city itself was suffering from position throng and did not know what to do with its outstanding position.
All the heroes of the film can be regarded as the victims of the mentioned disease. The radio reporter never actually wanted to be a radio reporter (rather a film director, but he had not been a really talented one); the actor, although not without artistic skills, cannot feel comfortable in his roles (because he is four times the size of an average Hamlet), and the producer is too weak to confront the big-mouth actor. We can say that this is not a happy world, and Hajdú chose actors and producers to be the heroes of his films, because this is the segment, the world of films and the theatre that he is most familiar with. He had no other reason.
Yet, the scenes that seem to be mostly improvised are really funny: the dialogue of the actor and his pub-going partner, the radio reporter’s irritating clumsiness (in him I recognize one of our most well-known reporters who also asked similar stupidities from directors in my presence), as well as the after-premier party which ends in a stripping dance, or the debate of the atrocious actor-husband and the director (which is also Mónika Show at its best). Some of the scenes cause bad feelings (just like cold water flowing into our neck in lousy weather) and the cold weather of Budapest gets under our skin. It is not light-hearted humor, this is not Dumaszínpad, not a standup comedy, but the humor of Mónika Show, benumbing most of the time, and the laughter it evokes, if at all, cannot by all means be called carefree or merry. A host of familiar faces and places.
Most of the scenes seem to be an improvisation: the row of the actors, the excellent Orsolya Török-Illyés (she was left out of White Palm) and Hajdú’s other favorite Domokos Szabó is highly realistic. And yet, due to the improvisation, this scene is not quite authentic: it is felt that the two actors strive to be authentic, when evoking the process of the row and when showing how far rows in general and their row in particular can get, that their relationship is hopeless. But in the worse moments of the scene, only the endeavor, the intention is seen, and not the points or the consequences of the debate. Although several times they manage to show what an ordinary conversation is like, and what the absurdity of everyday life is, sometimes the target appears to be unachievable, and what we see is mere acting and rehearsals prior to scenes: two actors are aiming to show that they are natural.
I felt it to a lesser extent in the acting of József Vásári portraying Kelemen Kádár. Vásári has already played in Hajdú’s films, and he has proven to be a gigantic figure of Hungarian film. Good roles are difficult to write for him, because of his huge figure. His scene in the pub with the guest that ?provokes” the actor out of him is the most irritating, yet the best scene of the film. It is so absurd and extreme that it can hardly fit into the film’s other scenes, because the neighboring scenes push it out, squeeze it out, but it definitely has a place in the film.
This (scene) and the structure of the film evoked best Buńuel’s genial film, A szabadság fantomja.
The structure does not only determine the film, but in my opinion it gives the essence of Off Hollywood; the greatness, the beauty, the brutality and the central message all lie in it.
In the first, opening scene of the film we see a man collapsing in the street. Passengers in early morning coma walk by, not giving a damn to the unconscious man, and there is hardly anyone looking at him with sympathy. The indifferent, terrible street slowly fades away, and the camera focuses on Adél Bódi. We are following her through one scene (into the radio studio). In A szabadság fantomja, when somebody is asked what time it is, the story does not continue with the one hurrying to his love, but with the one looking at his watch: Buńuel tears us out of the story to show that every film story is incidental, but he also aims to draw our attention to the fact that however incidental these stories might be, they are about us. We create the stories, and we take them forward.
The dramaturgy of the film is built upon this ?relay”, the person who we believe to be the central figure is never in the focus. This is a game not only with Buńuel, but with the semantics of the film as well. The appearance of the giant actor made the same impression on me (earlier we could see a person walking a dog and a street full of dog excrement) as the famous ostrich in Buńuel’s film. Kelemen’s appearance is rather surprising. We expect the story of the dog walker to continue, but all of a sudden Kelemen becomes the focal point.
Kelemen leaves the pub and when he has drunk enough to make his throng disappear, he decides to go to the premier. Here it turns out that production forgot to tell him that he was not in the film any more. His scenes were cut out.
With these episodes handed over, Hajdú apparently wants to involve the spectator in the game: he wants to give us (the viewer) the relay baton.
As Szabolcs Hajdú, himself put it in an interview: the film can be divided into three parts: (events happening) to him, to us and to you.
The structure of Off Hollywood is similar to that of the popular E.R. series. E.R. owes its dynamics and impetus to the method of shifting the focus from one character to the other without editing: a patient is pushed out, then a doctor appears and we forget about the patient only to follow the doctor’s story from now on. Then the surgeon unexpectedly turns to another patient and runs with him towards the operating theatre. E.R. is the apotheosis of steadycam.
As the camera shifts the focus from the man in the first frames to Adél Bódi, Hajdú sharpens the image of the spectator at the end of the film. The first part of the story happens to director Adél Bódi, the second one focuses on Kelemen and the crew, while the third one on Adél Bódi and us.
In the closing scene of the movie (which can be interpreted only by vivid imagination) Adél Bódi is running mindlessly, as if she wanted to leave this world. The camera is bumping along with her across the streets. The heroine is chasing us. But she is not running away from her position fears, nor from contemporary Hungarian reality. She is chasing us with implacable desire for love.
Apart from photographer András Nagy who creates this agitated atmosphere so excellently, the sound designer of the movie Gábor Balázs also deserves a praise: I have not heard such a great film sound for a long time. It does not only give the authentic touch to the atmosphere, but offers a solution as well: Adél Bódi is panting into our neck. She is in our footsteps, there is no escaping from her, she is right behind us, we can feel that she is sweating, that she is out of breath. We sense how much she is afraid. She is afraid that everything remains like this. That she will be alone.
From spectators we are transformed into characters: we take over the relay baton exactly at the moment when we cannot bear Adél’s suffering any more. We take it over from her.
Director Adél Bódi asks us breathlessly to make the change and to create something different, because things cannot remain the same. The city must change, the Hungarian art must change, nobody can live without love, so alone.
The last scene does not end the film with a statement but with a question: is that it?
After this question the Outer Hollywood Vision does not end: Szabolcs Hajdú puts a huge question mark drawn with strong lines at the end of the movie. This film can be regarded significant (or bizarre), because not an aesthetic, but only an ethical answer can be given to the question posed (or rather transferred) to us.