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November 08, 2018

Denver Film Festival - Budapest Noir

budapest noir.jpg

Eva Gardos - 2017
Menemsha Films

Don't think for a moment that Hollywood has a monopoly on the concept of cinematic franchises. Budapest Noir is based on the novel by Vilmos Kondor, the first of five books centered on two-fisted crime reporter Zsigmond Gordon. OK, so that doesn't quite have the same punch as Sam Spade or Mike Hammer, but the books have been best sellers in Hungary, and the first one has been translated in several languages, including English. What is also interesting about these novels is that there is also the use of history progressing from the years prior to World War II through the Hungarian revolution of 1956.

I've not read Kondor, but he claims as influences Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford and Dashiell Hammett. Eva Gardos' film has the film noir content, if not the style. While I have no idea how faithful the film is, in relation to the source novel, following the film through to the end reveals that beyond some genre cliches, there is a bit more going on beneath the surface. The ending is especially chilling with the viewers awareness of what is to follow historically, but also serves as reminder for the contemporary audience to not be politically complacent.

The film takes place in 1936, following the death of Prime Minister Gyula Gombos. Hungary has already begun accommodating Hitler in exchange for support of its nationalistic goals, with racial (anti-semitic) laws beginning to take effect. Like almost every crime novel or movie, Budapest Noir begins with an unexpected meeting between Gordon and a mysterious, beautiful woman. Gordon is perpetually unshaven and is usually seen wearing a beat-up fedora. The woman disappears as suddenly as she appeared, only to reappear as a corpse found in the street. The death is dismissed as that of an unknown prostitute, but crime reporter Gordon finds connections leading up to the highest social circles of Budapest. Patience is rewarded after the visual and narrative cliches are established.

It's not a big stretch to reimagine this film with Humphrey Bogart as Gordon, and Ida Lupino as his spunky, photographer girlfriend. One of the strengths of the film is in the evocative faces of the cast, especially the hired thug with the missing upper teeth, revealed to be a luckless street fighter. There are also knowing touches as in a scene at a high class brothel, "Les Fleurs du Mal" (Flowers of evil), where the song, "Falling in Love Again" from The Blue Angel can be heard faintly in the background. That this is very clearly Hollywood style filmmaking is less of surprise in knowing that Eva Gardos own background has been as an editor on films such as Valley Girls, Under the Cherry Moon and even Things to do in Denver when You're Dead.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 8, 2018 08:42 AM