Magyar maverick Gyorgy Szomjas hits the lesbian trail with “Kisses and Scratches,” an often witty, frequently touching, pulp-social yarn of a love affair between a social worker and a young mother. Fans of Szomjas’ quirky oeuvre will tune in immediately to the mix of real backgrounding and early Godardian filmplay. Festgoers of all sexes should also relish its fresh, undogmatic approach.
Angi (Beata Papp) is an independent, no-nonsense social worker in a working-class district of Budapest. One of her several part-time jobs is babysitting for Ildiko (Ildiko Bakos), who lives apart from her husband and has two young kids. One day, when the two femmes are playfully rolling around on the floor en famille, they end up rolling around just with each other.
For Ildiko, it’s her first thunderbolt with another woman. Though the gay Angi is cautious, she eventually gives in to Ildiko’s persistence and intros her to a homosexual lifestyle. However, when Angi’s hooker friend Maya (Bea Kaman) steals Ildiko’s affections at a girly club one night, it’s Angi’s turn to feel lovesick. There’s also the small matter of a gangster friend’s gun being passed around.
In tone and style, the pic strongly recalls Szomjas’ prostie meller, “Fast and Loose” (1990), and like that film draws on material from real-life interviews which it reshapes into a neo-pulp format. Shooting style (by Szomjas’s longtime colleague, helmer-lenser Ferenc Grunwalsky) is off-center and frequently focused on small details. Captions, ranging from the jokey to the serious and poetic, comment on the screen action, and several sequences, such as Angi defending her sexual orientation in face of hostile questioning from Ildiko’s husband, have an almost docu flavor.
What separates Szomjas’ film from other lesbian pix is the fact that the women (all non-pros) are substantially acting out their own stories, and in fact approached the helmer with the idea of making the movie. Dialogue, all in a flavorsome, colloquial idiom, was improvised from their own experiences and Szomjas’ dramatic instructions for each scene. (In the sequence of Angi being questioned, for example, Papp was not warned in advance of what she would be asked.)
Onscreen coupling is free of nudity, but carries a considerable charge due to its unforced naturalness. Papp, especially, is terrific as the mannish, life-bruised Angi, neatly complemented by Bakos as the perky, attractive young mother and Kaman as the easy-come-easy-go Maya. Original video shooting is clean , and lit like a regular feature.