by Mike Naafs
Two films in the international competition in Miskolc this year were as closely related without being as remotely the same, that it makes one wonder. Let’s start with the titles, which when written down one after another almost sound like a poem:
It’s Not the Time of my Life
It’s Only the End of the World
The first one, by Hungarian director Szabolcs Hajdu, immediately reveals something about the honesty of the main character in the film: “I looked at myself, I am in some sort of crisis, and really, all things considered, this is not the time of my life.”.
The other title, by Xavier Dolan, is by contrast already much more superfluous: “I am going back to this family of mine, after all these years, I am dying of a disease, but hey, It’s only the end of the world!”
As though there is anything else.
Both films are chamber pieces involving family and both are adapted from a theatrical play. Unity of time, place and action, as old as Aristotle. Perfect for film. But as the titles show, and the movies even more, specifically if you see one after the other, they exist in parallel universes.
Imagine a pitch of each of these two films:
XD: Ok, I probably don’t need to introduce myself, you’ve all seen Mommy right? Or maybe my latest Gucci commercial, so I am proud to announce my new project. It will have the best four actors our world has to offer in the main roles. Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux, Marion Cotillard and Nathalie Baye. I will have them screaming at one another for 90 minutes. I will almost only use close-ups and the light, well, if you know my style, will be saturated with colour, and don’t forget the poppy music. The main character, played by the handsome Gaspar Ulliel, will be vacuous. As a playwright by profession, returning to this family after a long period, he has nothing to say. He only smiles a little bit. He can’t find the words for his message of Death. And surrounding him, I have these four angry family members, hysterically shouting for his attention and at the same time blaming him for never having sent anything more than a postcard! Do you see the paradox? It’s going to be beautiful. I want to keep the style claustrophobic, as a Kammerspiel implies, but sometimes I will let it escape in a dream or fantasy of his youth. The ending will be symbolic, I’m thinking about a Cuckoo, but not sure yet.
SH: After my last two films I got fed up with asking for funds or money in general, it just takes too long, and I am a impatient man, so for this film I don’t need a pitch, because I don’t care about your money. But I will tell you anyhow. Last year, I had written and directed a play, which was performed here in Budapest. And now I want to a screen version of it. I will use my own apartment as the location, my wife is a professional actress, I have friends who can cook, I will play a part, as will my five-year- old son; and since I know a lot of students at the Academy, I will ask ten of them to be my cameramen. With my own play in hand, I will shoot for two weeks. It won’t need a lot of editing and after that I don’t want to rely on distribution either, so I will put a message on social media saying that anyone with a projector and an apartment, who can organize a screening for 20 people or more, can get a copy of the film. I want the film to be intuitive, open, uncompromising and deeply human. People can be cruel, loving, caring, arrogant, childish, funny, sad and selfish, all at different times of their lives. I want to show that whole spectrum of emotions, not pick out just one for the sake of character development. You know the song Life in Vain by Daniel Johnson? Don’t want to be free of hope/ And I’m at the end of my rope/ It’s so tough just to be alive/ When I feel like the living dead/ I’m giving it up so plain/ I’m living my life in vain/ And where am I going to? That’s the soundtrack for the people in this film.
So close, and yet so far… It is time to choose your universe.
Edited by Amber Wilkinson
© FIPRESCI 2016