A sense of nostalgia and a feeling the present has been betrayed by the past imbue veteran Magyar director Karoly Makk’s “A Long Weekend in Pest and Buda,” a film about a couple who meet again after a long absence forced upon them by a now discredited political system. Beautifully, if traditionally, made film is very Hungarian in its themes and references, and a knowledge of recent Hungarian history, and perhaps also Hungarian cinema, will immeasurably add to pic’s enjoyment. A major festival berth is indicated for this mellow, rather sad, love story.
Thirty-two years ago, Makk’s “Love” unveiled in Cannes to great enthusiasm, and can now be seen as one of the most important of all Hungarian films. Made when the Communist regime was still very much in power, “Love” daringly explored the theme of lovers separated by the state when the husband is imprisoned for his political beliefs. Lead actors Ivan Darvas and Mari Torocsik were superb as the couple.
The same two lead actors reappear in “Long Weekend” which, if not exactly a sequel or continuation to “Love” is certainly strongly linked to the earlier film; there are even brief excerpts from the 1970 pic to confirm the connection.
Ivan left Hungary in 1956, vowing never to return to “that godforsaken country.” He had already served time in a Communist prison before he escaped in the confusion of the revolution, leaving behind his lover, Mari. In recent years, Ivan has been living in a Swiss villa with his British wife (Eileen Atkins).
But one night he receives an urgent message to come to see the apparently dying Mari in a Budapest hospital. Without telling his wife the reason for his mission, he returns to Hungary for the first time in 45 years.
He finds Mari very ill but still sprightly enough to revive old memories. More importantly, he discovers he has a daughter he never knew about, the result of a liaison between Ivan and Mari in London (the elegant Eszter Nagy-Kalozy looks a bit too young for the role). While Ivan bonds with his newfound daughter, reawakens the past in conversations with Mari, and sifts through old photographs and memorabilia, Makk depicts a modern Hungary where crime is rampant and civility almost a thing of the past. Among the secrets revealed to Ivan for the first time is the fact Mari actually had been working for the Communist secret service at the time they were lovers.
But the director’s decision to prune many of the political references from what was originally a much longer film was, perhaps, a mistake. Pic clocks at a taut 88 minutes, and certainly there’s nothing wasted, but neither is there as much flesh on the bones as there might have been, and the basically sad story of lost love and unfulfilled dreams lacks the context which might have made it more arresting. One casualty of the ruthless pruning is the exceedingly sketchy character of a retired police chief, Mari’s former boss, played by veteran Dezso Garas.
Darvas and Torocsik, two of Hungary’s finest actors, acquit themselves well and bring considerable baggage to their roles as relics of a tragic era in the country’s turbulent history. Production values are sumptuous, including the professional camerawork of Elemer Ragalyi (with Sandor Kardos behind the camera for the Swiss sequences) and the attractive, bluesy, music score by Laszlo Des.