Review: ‘Death in Shallow Water’

"Death in Shallow Water" is a political thriller inspired by a real-life mystery: the apparent suicide of a prominent Hungarian intellectual, just one of many such people who died mysteriously or disappeared in Central Europe during the 1980s. It's an intriguing story but is given disappointingly flat treatment by the Hungarian team of Imre Gyongyossy, Barna Kabay and Katalin Petenyi, whose most celebrated pic to date has been the 1983 Oscar-nominated "The Revolt of Job." Arthouse release looks dubious, with chances better in video.

“Death in Shallow Water” is a political thriller inspired by a real-life mystery: the apparent suicide of a prominent Hungarian intellectual, just one of many such people who died mysteriously or disappeared in Central Europe during the 1980s. It’s an intriguing story but is given disappointingly flat treatment by the Hungarian team of Imre Gyongyossy, Barna Kabay and Katalin Petenyi, whose most celebrated pic to date has been the 1983 Oscar-nominated “The Revolt of Job.” Arthouse release looks dubious, with chances better in video.

Story centers on Tibor (Michael Marwitz), a chemical researcher who has discovered how poisonous gases can be neutralized in chemical weapons. It’s 1988 , and Hungary is still a Communist state: The Russians want the details of Tibor’s research, and they try to recruit him and his wife, Maria (Anna Romantowska), to no avail. Tibor is secretly arrested by the KGB, who drown him in a bathtub. His body is found in shallow water in Lake Batalon, and the Hungarian police appear convinced it’s suicide. But his son Peter (Pavel Delag) won’t let the matter rest and is determined to solve the mystery, with tragic results.

Potential is here for a good, old-fashioned spy thriller, with lots of intrigue and suspense, but Gyongyossy and Kabay (who last made the excellent, underrated semi-docu “Exiled”) are steeped in a more cerebral, less energetic style of cinema. Result is that, as a thriller, “Shallow Water” fails to deliver; the ingredients are there, but not the tension and cinematic dash to make it work.

Multinational cast’s performances are mixed, with Romantowska coming off best as the dead man’s distraught wife. Location photography is effective.

Death in Shallow Water

(HUNGARIAN-GERMAN-AUSTRIAN)

Production

A Mozgokep Innovacios Tarsulas (Budapest)/Satellit Film (Starnberg)/Vega Film (Vienna) co-production, with the support of Eurimages. Produced by Istvan Darday , Barna Kabay, Veit Heiduschka. Directed by Imre Gyongyossy, Kabay. Screenplay, Gyongyossy, Katalin Petenyi.

Crew

Camera (color), Peter Jankura; editors, Petenyi, Maria Nagy; music, Zoltan Biro; production design, Tamas Vayer. Reviewed at Hungarian Film Week, Budapest, Feb. 8, 1994. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Maria ... Anna Romantowska Dobos ... Jan Englert Tibor ... Michael Marwitz Peter ... Pavel Delag Hans ... Daniele Legler Martha ... Katerzyna Walter-Sakowich Gabor ... Geza Kaszas Dr. Koslov ... Ivan Darvas Esther ...Karolina Roszinszka
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