– Established Hungarian filmmaker Szabolcs Hajdu unravels the frustrations and existential dilemmas of two couples during a midlife crisis
Szabolcs Hajdu and Orsolya Tóth in Kalman’s Day
In his Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe winner It’s Not the Time of My Life [+see also:
interview: Szabolcs Hajdu
film profile], Hungary’s Szabolcs Hajdu dug deep into family and personal relationships, while in his next film, Treasure City [+see also:
film profile], he dared to explore the dark side of the human psyche even further. Elements of both mingle in his most recent work, Kalman’s Day, which is currently locking horns in the Critics’ Picks Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights International Film Festival. Unfolding in a minimalist setting with a modest cast of five actors – it is actually a screen adaptation of a theatre play, staged by the same team – dialogue and emotional interplay are at its core. Static in terms of the action while frenetically dynamic in the exchange of verbal cues, Kalman’s Day resembles a therapy session with an obscure outcome, during which anger is released, dirty laundry is aired in public, and viewers are invited to shed a tear or bite off a gobbet of meat from bleeding wounds.
Our attention is grabbed even in the opening scene, when Kalman (played by Hajdu himself) mutters about both liberal education and his sister-in-law, who’s demanding another favour from his family. His exasperation with the world portends a storm that his wife, Olga (Orsolya Tóth), diligently tempers with small talk about practicalities, even though she will inevitably fail to put off the big talk about their dormant sex life. When her chatty sister Zita (Nóra Földeáki) and her seemingly quiet husband Levente (Domokos Szabó) arrive, Kalman and Olga have already reached a level of communication that’s civilised enough to cover up their long-standing intolerance of each other and to deal with the mutual fury of their guests without too many nasty surprises. It is Kalman’s name day after all, so it’s a good excuse to have a drink!
Without being particularly groundbreaking – it inherits some motifs from Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, Roman Polanski’s Carnage [+see also:
film profile] and the recent Anatomy of a Fall [+see also:
interview: Justine Triet
film profile] by Justine Triet – the film tackles issues such as the difficulty of communicating one’s love in a way that the other can grasp and the impossibility of receiving it in the desired form. And therefore, it speaks intimately – in ways similar to all of the aforementioned masterpieces – to anyone who is enduring a relationship and all its flaws, and even more so to those who find themselves “within a darkling wood upon the journey of their life midway”, to quote Dante – a place in life where future prospects can sometimes seem more puzzling than they did in one’s youth.
Sharp, concise and straight to the point, rather than deeply analytical, Kalman’s Day’s overall effect is like that of one of the palinka shots that the characters swig here and there throughout in order to calm their nerves – it warms you up, but without clouding the mind with empty hopes that things will get better. From a certain age onwards, attempts no longer focus on the possibility of change, but rather on the acceptance that change might never occur.