The parched countryside of rural Hungary conceals mysteries big and small in the ethereal, time-shattering thriller "After the Day Before."
By JOSHUA TANZER
Hungarian director Attila Janisch introduced the screening of his latest film at the Seattle Film Festival with the following advice: "Don't looking for the time, just the story."
That is to say, the events of "After the Day Before" are so mixed up in time and more frantically mixed up as the film nears its conclusion that you can be excused for giving up on knowing exactly what's happening when. This could easily become one of those "Memento" / "Mulholland Drive" cult films where people watch it 18 times to nail down every last detail. But you don't have to be a fanatic just letting it wash over you and soaking up the weird sense of wonder would be a pretty good movie experience.
|AFTER THE DAY BEFORE|
|Original title: Másnap.|
Directed by: Attila Janisch.
Written by: András Forgách.
Cast: Tibor Gáspár, Borbála Derzsi, Sándor Czeczô, Dénes Újlaky, Kati Lázár, Mari Nagy, Márta Szabó, Anett Forgács, József Szarvas, János Derzsi, Éva Almássy Albert, András Fekete, Lajos Kovács, Sándor ifj. Kõmíves, Iván Dengyel.
Cinematography: Gábor Medvigy.
Edited by: Anna Kornis, Panny Kornis.
In Hungarian with English subtitles.
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Seattle Film Festival 2005|
The movie starts with a stranger in a strange town. A truck driver drops him off on the roadside and offers him a rickety old bicycle that's collecting rust in the back of his truck, along with the following advice: "Don't count on anyone's help." This sober William Hurt-looking city gentleman in a suit and tie is looking for a farmhouse that he's inherited from a distant relative. Stopping at the last farmhouse in town, he's told: "There are no more houses. Keep on going and you'll fall off the cliff." Soon he's stuck there for the night. This begins to look like one of those towns where people in suspense movies get swallowed up and are never heard from again.|
For a long time, clues are piling up but it isn't clear what's really going on behind the scenes or why we're watching this story at all. There's something a little bit wrong about every inhabitant in town, and there's a trail of oddities a reappearing motorcycle, spiral shells with holes in them, a watch that may or may not have stopped. Our visitor from the outside crosses paths with a high-temperature young couple, the sultry Simon and an enigmatic, unnamed girl, who are caught in a compromising position by an enraged townsman named Romek. Later, overheard conversations hint that both of the lovebirds are Romek's kids. Ah, young love on the farmstead!
At this point, the games with time begin. The movie's first chapter, the alert viewer will discover, was actually two parts of the same day, separated by the scenes that come next. Later scenes spiral both outward, toward the beginning and end of the story, and inward, toward a mysterious accident that leaves the beautiful girlfriend dead at the bottom of that cliff. Or was it really an accident?
"After the Day Before" is a terrific suspense movie and just a terrific movie, period. Beautifully shot to capture the heavy languor of a summer day in a parched landscape, the film's mood matches its sense of mystery. As with "Memento," you're encouraged to keep track of dozens of subtle clues as to what you're seeing and when it's happening. It's the kind of film that rewards you for using your head.|
A critical reviewer could probably pick out a dozen different genre clichés in this movie, but in this case that's not such a weakness. Relentlessly realistic with just a thin veil of mirage-like dreaminess, the film avoids lapsing into the supernatural. So every time somebody wades into a cornfield or walks up some creaky stairs, you may find yourself bracing for the inevitable axe-wielding psychopath but he's not there. It just isn't that kind of a movie. The corn is high because that's how corn grows, and the house creaks because it's old. Sometimes a rotting animal head is just a rotting animal head. And because that plays with your Hollywood-conditioned movie reflexes, every time something doesn't jump out from the shadows it reinforces the story's heavy reality.
Only once, in one of the movie's final revelations, does Janisch succumb to temptation and step out of reality, and it's a disappointment when he does. The scene that finally reveals everything comes from a much more predictable movie.
Whether for this or some other reason, the capacity crowd in the theater where I saw the movie gave it one of the most lukewarm responses I heard for any movie at the Seattle Film Festival barely a polite minimum of applause, given that the director was in the house. So this is one of those movies that you either click with or don't. But for those who do, it's a shot of mental adrenaline. It's one of my few favorite movies of the year.
|JUNE 14, 2005|
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