If the term middle class can apply to the New East context, then its embodiment is the central Budapest home of young artistic couple Eszter (Orsolya Török-Illyés) and her husband Farkas (Szabolcs Hajdu). We see them at a supposedly routine evening spent home with another couple over wine. The idyllic picture falls apart once their friends leave. Ezster and Farkas suddenly transform into a married couple on the verge of separation who fight over their hyperactive 5 year-old son Bruno (played by the director’s son Zsigmond). Eszter accuses Farkas of not loving his own child and Farkas, we learn later on, feels that his wife has taken all her adoration for him and given it to Bruno. “We were wonderful as couple,” he says, “but somehow never managed to make it work with the three of us.” In the scene, they almost decide to get a divorce, but are interrupted by the door bell. Ezster’s expatriated sister Laura (Lujza Hajdu) and her family show up unexpectedly after an unsuccessful attempt of living in Scotland for a year. With no house of their own, Ezster’s home is the only possible shelter for the family of three.
People can grow up together and still grow apart, the film shows us, as class tensions and familial trauma escalate within the confined space of the apartment. It will not be an overstatement to say that the depth and intensity of the unfolding relationships and the great sense of disconnection between the closest relatives, draws faithful parallels to the work of Ingmar Bergman. Intentionally or not, the relationship between the two blood-related women in this chamber drama feels like an Autumn Sonata (1978) of a sort, but one placed exclusively within the Eastern European context, as the idea of Post-Socialist economic immigration remains present throughout.
Hajdu uses Bruno’s character to create a cinephilic frame story of a young boy with little interest for anything that isn’t a movie, whose excess energy makes him perhaps a bit too violent. With the help of his cousin, Bruno will later discover acting which will accommodate his love for fictional stories, and becoming a healthy way for the young boy to unload energy. As for the rest of the relationships unfolding on screen, the film ends with an open resolution – sometimes we need a bit of chaos to find our way back to harmony. Seeing the problems of the other family, each person begins to appreciate their own.
The way It’s Not The Time of My Life was created needs a story of its own. With no state funding to rely on, Hajdu shot the entire film in his own apartment, craftily casting members of his family, as well as himself (the role brought him the Best Actor award at the same year’s Karlovy Vary). The stunning, and surprisingly homogenous, cinematography is a result of the collective work of 13 of the director’s students, each of whom was ascribed a sequence. The organic look of the film, the director states, was achieved by the young students’ willingness to work together and pick up from each others’ techniques. The film’s unconventional path, however, does not end at Karlovy Vary. Upon receiving the Best Film award, It’s Not The Time of My Life did not yet have a distributor, and so Hajdu set up an improvised tour around Hungary where the film would screen in the houses of friends and supporters. Hajdu’s film is a piece everyone should see, but feels especially encouraging for young filmmakers, demonstrating that the essence of good cinema lies not in budget but in collectivity.
It’s Not The Time of My Life will screen on Monday, 10 September at HOMEmcr.