(Hungarian, Russian and English dialogue)
Alikable portrait of a bunch of transients in Central Europe immediately after the fall of communism, “Bolshe Vita” overcomes some awkward writing in the early going to become an affecting and involving ensembler that exactly captures the initial euphoria and subsequent disillusionment of the time. Winner of both the Gene Moskowitz (foreign critics’) award and best first feature prize at the recent Hungarian Film Week in Budapest, pic looks set to do the fest rounds and clock up cable and tube sales.
Early reels assemble the cast of players who come together in 1989 Budapest. There are two slightly wacky Russian musicians, guitarist Yura (Yuri Fomichov) and sax player Vadim (Igor Chernyevich), heading for a gig in Belgrade; blond Sergei (Aleksei Serebryakov), selling kitchen knives to pay his way to Yugoslavia; and friends Maggie (Helen Baxendale) from the U.K. and Susan (Caroline Loncq) from Texas, who’ve washed up in Hungary because that’s “where all the excitement is.”
Partly through the kindness of a Hungarian woman, Erzsi (Agnes Mahr), all five eventually meet, and the musicians even get work at a bar, the Bolshe Vita. Yura pairs off with Maggie, and Vadim has a tryst with Susan, while Sergei works the open-air market trying to sell his knives.
Soon, however, reality starts to intrude on the “short but memorable period when East Europe was happy” (per opening narration). Sergei finds he can’t move on from Hungary, Vadim starts longing for the wide open spaces of Russia, Maggie finds she’s pregnant, and Susan announces she’s going to get married. Even the cosmopolitan free market in a suburb of Budapest is being taken over by Mafia types, and anti-Russian resentment and violence is growing.
Using thematic material from her 1992 docu “Children of Apocalypse,” and interweaving video material of period events, writer-director Ibolya Fekete (who worked for years with helmer Gyorgy Szomjas) constructs an easygoing pic that reflects the lives of its free-floating characters. Though some of the dialogue sits uneasily in the mouths of English-speaking Baxendale and Loncq, all the characters gradually win the viewer over as they bump like balls on a pool table toward their destinies.
Performances are varied but share the ring of truth, ranging from Baxendale’s rebellious Maggie through Fomichov’s goofy but cute musician, to Serebryakov’s focused but somewhat bemused Sergei. Mahr is good as the Hungarian who takes in Russians, and Loncq (actually English) is convincing as a Yank refugee in Europe. Tech credits are consistently fine.