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April 21, 2023



György Fehér - 1990
Arbelos Films

It will be interesting to note the reactions to Twilight from those who are not familiar with any version of Friedrich Durrenmatt's story. Originally a screenplay for the 1958 German film, It Happened in Broad Daylight, Durrenmatt's story was compromised be the insistence of a cheerful resolution. Durrenmatt adapted his story into the novella, The Pledge, also published the same year. The change was a narrative that set to deconstruct the conventions of the detective story as well as undermine some of the myths of actual police work.

The basic framework is that a police detective on the verge of retiring is at a crime scene on his last day. A young girl is found murdered in a forest, her throat slashed. The detective promises the victim's mother that he will find the murderer. Even though he is no longer on the force, the detective forgoes a planned vacation to resolve the case. He is insistent that a vagrant deemed guilty due to circumstantial evidence is not the murderer. Based on similar cases, the detective determines that the murderer lives by a certain road, and sets up residence in a rundown gas station on that road. A young mother is recruited to be his housekeeper with her elementary school age daughter to be used as the unknowing bait.

Durrenmatt's story has been filmed five times. Most of the basic elements are the same even though the details differ. As Durrenmatt revised his own screenplay into a novel, there cannot be said to be a definitive version of the story. The only version I have not seen was made for Italian television. While the basic framework is shared, the remakes all are contemporary to the time the films were produced. The more striking variations are with the details that are either emphasized or omitted. Some of the films use the ending from first film, while others use the novella's ending. The Hungarian filmmaker György Fehér credits his source material as inspired by tropes from Durrenmatt's screenplay.

Unlike the other film versions, this is quite elliptical in its story telling. Several scenes are considerably condensed. Durrenmatt's dialogue and exposition are virtually eliminated with brief statements by characters not always clearly seen. Most of the film takes in fog or rain. Even the interior shots are dimly lit shades of gray. The one time sunshine peeks through is when a suspect is apprehended. Instead, there are very studied upward tilts of a forest and the use of lateral tracking shots. The sense of detachment adds to ambiguity where solving a mystery seems besides the point. I have seen three of the other versions, and Feher also notably does not show any of the story's more exploitable moments.

Have I done myself a disservice by seeing the other films first? Those not familiar with the story in any of its other forms may possibly be frustrated with Feher's slivers that make up the narrative portion of his film. Knowing that Feher has also worked with Bela Tarr may help temper expectations based on any familiarity with the better known filmmaker. The film itself is sourced from a 2022 restoration, and is only now getting a belated stateside 4K theatrical release.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 21, 2023 05:15 AM