Review: ‘Bitches’

"Bitches" is a bitch. Ildiko Szabo's wild, sometimes wacky, but generally all-over-the-map portrait of three femmes on the fast lane to divorce will stop admirers of her much-lauded previous feature, the B&W spine-crawler "Child Murders," in their tracks. Shot in poster-bright colors, and featuring some of the top talents in the Magyar industry, pic seems a deliberate reaction against her rigorously controlled 1993 drama. Foreign sales look problematic.

“Bitches” is a bitch. Ildiko Szabo’s wild, sometimes wacky, but generally all-over-the-map portrait of three femmes on the fast lane to divorce will stop admirers of her much-lauded previous feature, the B&W spine-crawler “Child Murders,” in their tracks. Shot in poster-bright colors, and featuring some of the top talents in the Magyar industry, pic seems a deliberate reaction against her rigorously controlled 1993 drama. Foreign sales look problematic.

The eagerly awaited movie copped two acting awards (Eniko Eszenyi, Antal Cserna) at the recent Hungarian Film Week in Budapest, and was admired by locals for its accurate portrayal of contempo male-female relations but failed to excite many foreign critics. Pic’s subsequent reception in competition at Berlin will be crucial to its overseas career.

To those with long memories, Szabo’s picture strongly recalls Anja Breien’s 1975 “Wives,” made on the cusp of Euro-feminism. There’s the same loose structure, the same party atmosphere of women having a good time sans male approval, and the same nose-thumbing at grosser macho attitudes. Though Szabo’s sense of fun is far ditzier than Breien’s, and has some cherishable moments, as a whole, the pic is perilously formless, a tad old-fashioned in its targeting, and less than illuminating about what drives the women themselves.

The three protags, intro’d separately before their stories merge, are as varied as could be. Eniko (Eszenyi) has two kids and a pigtailed husband (Laszlo Galffy) who throws her through a glass door when she mocks his manhood; Dorka (Dorottya Udvaros), also with twooffspring, has fallen for a kid half her age, much to the annoyance of her husband (Gyorgy Cserhalmi), who responds by trying to have rough sex but gets a leg cramp halfway through; actress Barbara (Marianne Szalay) is bored with her spouse (Zsolt Laszlo), an erotic artist, and doesn’t want kids.

Events move into higher gear when the trio meet up at their favorite indoor pool, get drunk and decide they’ve had it with marriage. Dorka announces she’s pregnant, Eniko divorces hubby and pursues her lover, a weirdo who lives in an apartment converted into a Red Indian reservation, and Barbara hits the town to get laid, ending up (in a genuinely funny sight gag) with a folk musician who’s created a home temple to a woman who looks exactly like her.

That’s basically it in a movie that relies almost totally on the personalities of its lead actresses. Udvaros, oldest and most experienced of the three thesps, is a delight to watch and throws herself into one of the most unfettered roles of her career; Eszenyi has fun with her slightly goofy character; and Szalay exudes a kind of dreamy grace. Unfortunately, by the end of the film the audience is none the wiser about the women’s characters or motivations, though there’s been a few laughs spending time in their company.

Tech credits, and especially Peter Jankura’s bright lensing, are smooth. Hungarian title literally means “gals” or “chicks,” though pic’s official English title was chosen by Szabo herself.

Bitches

(HUNGARIAN-GERMAN)

Production

A Hetfoi Muhely (Hungary)/Dragon Cine (Germany) production, in association with Axis, GD, MTM Communications. (International sales: S-media 2000, Budapest.) Produced by Istvan Kardos. Executive producer, Pal Erdoss. Directed, written by Ildiko Szabo.

Crew

Camera (color), Peter Jankura; editors, Zsuzsa Posan, Teri Losonci; music, Janos Masik; art direction, Zsolt Juhasz Buday; costume design, Tamas Kiraly; sound (Dolby), Janos Reti. Reviewed at Hungarian Film Week, Budapest, Feb. 11, 1996. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 94 MIN.

With

With: Dorottya Udvaros, Eniko Eszenyi, Marianne Szalay, Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Laszlo Galffy, Zsolt Laszlo, Janos Ban, Antal Cserna.
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