It’s Not the Time of My Life
I would suggest that Hungary’s film industry is in the midst of a renaissance, but before the films of Béla Tarr, was there even much of an industry to begin with? If the director’s retirement has meant anything to Hungary, it’s that there’s an ambitious cadre of young filmmakers looking to emerge from the shadows of one of world cinema’s most rigorous artists. And with the critical and commercial success of László Nemes’ Son of Saul and Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, Hungary’s output is quickly ascending the cinematic pantheon.
Writer/director/actor Szabolcs Hajdu had been on the outskirts of this Hungarian Reawakening, his earlier films largely relegated to lower-tier festival spots. Surprisingly, It’s Not the Time of My Life would leave Karlovy Vary’s Main Competition as victor, earning the festival’s Crystal Globe distinction and a Best Actor citation for Hajdu. It’s certainly the most notable honor for the filmmaker, and given the material of the film, an intriguing choice.
The film details the crumbling relationship between Farkas (Szabolcs Hajdu) and Eszter (Orsolya Torok-Illyes, Hajdu’s real life partner) as a result of their difficult, young son Bruno (Zgismond Hajdu). Shot entirely in the couple’s apartment, this chamber drama is made especially striking for Hajdu’s immersive directorial qualities. Over a dozen cinematographers were assigned to the film, all apparently students of Hajdu, with their roaming images stitched together persuasively and percussively.
Hajdu adeptly surveys the apartment, aware of the geographic anxiety that can be exhumed from his setting. As more characters roam the confines, including Ezter’s sister Ernella (Erika Tanko), her husband Albert (Domokos Szabo) and their daughter Laura (Lujza Hajdu), the picture develops a surreal dramatic sensibility, inspired by an ABCs of styles that range from Altman to Buñuel to Cassavetes.
Whereas the aforementioned Son of Saul and White God are celebrated for their thematic heftiness and formal precision, the relative slightness and messiness of It’s Not the Time of My Life comes as a welcome relief. The authenticity of the material is immediately felt, and its unfussiness affords the film with a particular rawness that similar-minded films so often strive for. Hajdu’s film is unlikely to cause as much a stir as Nemes or Mundruczó’s films, if only because it lacks the novel ideas we often associate with great works. But it’s formally assured and veridical, and sometimes that’s enough.