Archive for the ‘Hungarian’ Category

Director: Márk Bodzsár

Writer: Márk Bodzsár

Country: Hungary

Runtime: 100 mins

Cast: Márk Bodzsár, András Ōtvös, Roland Rába, Tamás Kerezstes, Sándor Zsótér, Natasa Stork

 

A tragi-comedy that’s as dark as double espresso

Sometimes it doesn’t help to read the film festival programme notes. The Raindance Festival introduction to Heavenly Shift refers to the obvious influences of Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, which led me to expect scintillating dialogue, fast pacing, and a particular kind of visual style. Márk Bodzsár’s first full-length feature has plenty going for it, but about 20 minutes in I found that I needed to adjust my expectations. I was watching a different kind of film to the one that I’d anticipated.

Heavenly Shift is a very dark tragi-comedy that features the kind of characters and situations that could well come from a Tarantino or Anderson film, but the story develops at a steady, gradual pace and the dialogue is mostly low-key. The main protagonist is Milan Kolvarov (András Ōtvös), a young conscript who deserts his side in the Bosnian conflict of the early ’90s because he doesn’t want to kill. He crosses the border into Hungary, leaving behind his fiancé Tanya (Natasa Stork), who is a nurse trying to save the lives of the injured at a Kosovo hospital. Milan needs to raise enough money that he can smuggle Tanya across the border to join him.

Circumstances lead Milan to find work as a paramedic, where he is teamed with world-weary but genial Vinnai (Sándor Zsótér) and the chain-smoking psychotic Kistamás (Tamás Kerezstes). Vinnai and Kistamás turn out to be involved in a people-smuggling gang. When their patients die the transportation of their bodies is used as an excuse to smuggle living people back across the border, and the paramedics get paid for every body they deliver. Milan falls in with this scheme, but is initially perturbed when he discovers that his colleagues don’t always make every effort to resuscitate patients whose hearts have stopped. He is even more shocked to find that live patients are occasionally nudged along their way with an injection of potassium. Nonetheless, his desire to be reunited with Tanya increases along with his jealous suspicions about her relationships back in Kosovo, and so he lets his own principles be compromised as he tries to raise the money to bring Tanya across to Hungary.

As comedies go, this is about as dark as double espresso, and just as strong. The cinematography emphasises this in literal terms. When we see Milan’s desertion at the start of the film, it is in daylight hours, but once in Hungary everything takes place during the hours of darkness. Although it is perhaps not a film to get too philosophical about, the ambulance scenes do provoke a few thoughts about the value of human life, not to mention the decisions faced by paramedics. The finale, when it comes, has a nice kind of poetry about it.

Rating: 7/10

Heavenly Shift was shown as part of the Raindance Film Festival, 24th September – 5th October 2014.

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