Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Film Review: The Last Report On Anna

"The Last Report On Anna" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

When the line-up for the 46th annual Chicago International Film Festival was announced the Hungarian film "The Last Report On Anna" (2010, Utolso Jelentes Annarol) was the film I was most looking forward to seeing.

My desire to see the film had nothing to do with the plot or the actors involved. It had little to do with the fact it was Hungarian (for readers unaware, I'm Hungarian). The real reason I was looking forward to seeing this film was because it was directed by Marta Meszaros.

During the 1960s and 70s there was something known as the "Hungarian New Wave". Hungarian films were finding there way in art houses across America and despite the strained political ties between these two countries, film critics and the public were responding positively to these films.

The major directors during this time were Miklos Jancso (whom Meszaros was once married to), Istvan Szabo and Karoly Makk. And while it seemed like an "all boys club" there was one female director who was considered part of the movement, Marta Meszaros. Subsequently, she was also considered the premier female director in Hungary.

Unfortunately Hungarian films are not regularly distributed in this country. American audiences tend to like films from France, Italy, possibly Germany and/or Spain. So while Meszaros has been steadily releasing films all these years, here in America we have not had the opportunity to see them. Hence my excitement that the film festival would be showing her latest film.

Back in the 1960s and 70s Meszaros earned a reputation for making "women films". Films which centered on female issues. Those are the only films I have seen by Meszaros including titles such as "The Girl" (1968, Eltavozott Nap), "Riddance" (1973, Szabad Lelegzet) and "Adoption" (1975, Orokbefogadas), the most contemporary film by Meszaros to be released on DVD.

"The Last Report On Anna" is not really a "woman's film", though it does center on a female character. It has more in common with Istvan Szabo's work, whose movies usually tell us a story concerning Hungarian history.

The movie is based on a real life story dealing with Anna Kethly (Eniko Eszenyi), a Socialist politician who objects to the Communist rule Hungary found itself under after WW2. She goes into a self-imposed exile in France once Janos Kadar is named Prime Minister. The Communist however want Anna to return to Hungary in order to face her enemies. Their plan is to send a young man, Peter (Erno Fekete) to lure her back home with memories of her old lover, Laci (Jakob Ladanyi ) Peter's uncle. The two have not seen each other since Anna left Hungary after the 1956 Revolution.

Once Peter arrives in France and meets Anna, he soon starts to see issues from her perspective and learns family secrets. Will he still be able to go through with his mission and report his findings to his fellow comrades?

As a Hungarian and someone who has heard stories of what life was like under Communist rule, these type of movies usually affect me more than a viewer not familiar with Hungarian history. I know what the 56 revolt was. I know what it represents. I had family which was directly affected by the revolt. So I admittedly bring a lot of baggage with me when I walk into these movies. They get under my skin.

Still, I have to remain somewhat objective and try to determine how others will react to this movie. In the end my guess is a lot of viewers may not understand a lot of what they are seeing. When non Hungarians hear mention of 56 or Imre Nagy it may not mean anything to them. The film is too "Hungarian" to be enjoyed by everyone. Still, I cannot completely divorce myself from my own emotions and feelings and pretend the movie did not have moments which touched me. When we watch movies we all bring our own life experiences with us inside the movie theatre. I am no different, hence the high rating. But I acknowledge the difficulty others may have in relating to the film.

There are flaws with the film however. The script was written by Meszaros and frequent co-worker Eva Pataki. While there are moments of heartfelt sentimentality, I actually hoped for more. At certain times the film lacked a needed poignancy. I also thought the movie falls apart at the third act. I became confused by the fate of characters. Events were not clearly defined. This wasn't a problem with the screenplay but I suspect done in the editing room.

Eniko Eszenyi is effective in the role of Anna. The best moments are when we see her drifting back to her memories of the past. Here I was instantly caught up in the emotion of the situation and could relate to her desire to go back home and see her true love one last time. And while these moments are well done, still there is a part of me which feels we don't learn enough about Anna. We could have used more scenes showing us Anna and Farago back in Budapest. This aspect of the movie reminded me of Karoly Makk's "A Long Weekend in Pest and Buda" (2003, Egy Het Pesten es Budan). Which also dealt with star-crossed lovers.

In Peter one gets the feeling Meszaros is trying to draw a parallel between his relationship with his wife, Kati (Gabriella Hamori) and what happened to Anna and Farago. The message being the political turmoil of Hungary keeps repeating itself. Once Kati arrives in France and learns Anna's side of things, she wants to stay in France and not return to Hungary until things improve. It is a clever idea but one I felt Meszaros doesn't take full advantage of and remains too subtle. I also wish Hamori was given more to work with. She is a very talented actress whom I have seen in "I Love Budapest" (2001) and "Stop Mom Theresa" (2004, Allitsatok Meg Terezanyut!). She consistently gives engaging performances.

The film shifts time periods, at first starting off in the early 90s as the Berlin Wall has fallen and Hungary is finally free. But then it goes back to the 70s. In order to keep this bridge of old Hungary and new Hungary the music captured my attention. It is a combination of jazz, representing "new" but a cimbalom is clearly heard, representing "old". The cimbalom is played by Kalman Balogh, whom for the sake of complete honesty I should reveal knows my father, who is also a cimbalom player. The biggest question is, how many American audiences will appreciate that musical choice and catch on to it?

I doubt "The Last Report On Anna" will find American distribution. Clearly American audiences have little interest in the cinema coming from Hungary. I have seen some fine Hungarian films over the years at the Chicago Film Festival and none of them have gotten theatrical releases, I even saw an Istvan Szabo film back in 2006 which still hasn't even been released on DVD! So even with a major filmmaker like Marta Meszaros behind this film its chances seem pretty slim. But I'm glad I saw it. I'm glad Meszaros is still making films. She can still tell a good story.