Director – Szabolcs Hajdu – 2023 – Hungary, Slovakia, US – Cert. none – 72m
In Kálmán and his wife’s house, another couple gather to celebrate his birthday in what turns out to be a devastating drama about relationships falling apart and coming to an end – premieres in the Critics’ Picks Competition at the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival
NSFW. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is adapted from a stage play, never a great selling point for your current scribe because it can lead so easily to stagebound cinema, but inventive camerawork ensures that doesn’t happen here.
The setting is a couple’s home in the woods, and it starts off with housewife Olga (Orsi Tóth) on the phone to a woman Zita (Nóra Földeáki) so in love with the sound of her own voice that at one point Olga leaves the room (and the screen) and drifts out of earshot, only to return some while later, and we realise that although we have missed a huge amount of verbiage, we have missed absolutely nothing in terms of significant content. To cut a long story short, Zita and her husband are coming over today as planned for Olga’s husband Kálmán’s birthday and wants him wants to sign a form saying she and her family live at the house Olga and Kálmán occupy because they want to get one of their kids into a school in its catchment area.
Also in the room (the film takes place mostly in the couple’s living room), relaxing on the sofa, is Olga’s aforementioned husband Kálmán (played by director Szabolcs Hajdu, who also has a budding career as an actor) who, like the husband in Lessons of Tolerance (also playing this year in Tallinn) doesn’t understand why his wife has lost interest in him sexually. When Olga asks him about signing the catchment area address form, which she already assured Zita he would sign, he refuses point-blank, saying it would cause all manner of unnecessary problems.
Soon after, Zita arrives with husband Levente (Domokos Szabó) in tow and, predictably, can’t stop talking, although most of the time very little of what she says is of any great import. Levente, at least when his wife is around, is a man of few words. They have brought Kálmán the obligatory present, a bar you fix between two walls for the purpose of doing pull-ups, but alas no two walls in the house are the right width apart to fit it.
This is a chamber piece about two couples, or it would be, were it not for the presence of a fifth character, who like everyone else here is not having an easy time of it. Ernö (Imre Gélanyi) is Olga (and Kálmán’s) handyman who does odd jobs around the house. Zita has remarked to her husband as they arrived that Olga has had a lot of work done tidying up around the house exterior, so it’s no surprise when he turns up to sort out money Olga owes him. Kálmán has noticed a job halfway up the stairs that’s been shoddily completed, and moans to Olga that some of Ernö’s work is off. In a coda, we’ll see Ernö’s bodge job to fix the pull-up bar between two walls, where he’s failed to get it horizontal, which seems to sum up the less than satisfactory situation of all the characters here.
Ernö has his own personal problems. His wife has died recently, and he is completely cut up about it. This later leads in to a scene where he’s alone in the house with Zita and offers to relax her with a neck and back rub. She takes this at face value, but he clearly has other things on his mind, and when she finds his hands clasped tightly around her waist just below her breast, she has to forcibly unwrap them and explain she’s really not interested.
** SPOILER ALERT STARTS **
It turns out that Levente is having an affair with one of his students and, worse, has got her pregnant. Zita, wrapped up as she is in the day-to-day concerns about which she constantly prattles on, is unaware of this.
Thus, these five characters as they move in and out of the confined space of Kálmán and Olga’s home – which includes a car ride during which Zita is told of Levente’s affair by someone who doesn’t realise she doesn’t know – are already in – or find themselves entering – a state of personal existential crisis from which there is no easy extrication.
** SPOILER ALERT ENDS **
The whole thing is beautifully cast, directed and played and, although it’s a drama rather than a thriller, will have you gripped throughout. In its lean 72 minutes, it packs far more of a punch than many films you’ll see that run a far longer length. Yet this compact chamber movie proves strangely engaging considering it’s such a bleak film. And at its most devastating, it contains one concise and terrifying line of dialogue when Levente, who although on some level still loves her, has been driven to the end of his tether by his non-stop, motormouth wife to utter a terse, brutal, “Just shut up, you cunt.”
Kalman’s Day premieres in the Critics’ Picks Competition at the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Friday, November 3rd to Sunday, November 19th.
This article originally appeared on DMovies.org: you can find it here.