A quarter century after his classic satirical bull’s-eye “The Witness,” helmer Peter Bacso is off the mark with “Witness Again,” an amusing enough
jeu but a couple years off target and in need of considerable tightening for offshore consumption. Set in present-day, market-driven Hungary, and lacking the easily recognizable political potshots that made the original a fest favorite, this sequel looks unlikely to garner the international attention of the earlier work.
The first film, made in 1969 but not taken off the shelf until the early ’80s , was a biting satire of hard-line Communist lunacies during the ’50s through the story of an innocent Hungarian dupe, Jozsef Pelikan. Some 40 years on, Pelikan (Ferenc Kallai, encoring the role) is now living in quiet retirement, tending his beloved Magyar oranges on the Danube island Oroszvar, when he again becomes the focus of attention from the country’s driving forces — nowadays, entrepreneurship and nationalism.
Repping the former is goose-liver millionaire Szipak (Gyorgy Cserhalmi), flying a Euro business banner, who takes out Oroszvar’s mayor and then persuades Pelikan, whose name is still legendary, to fill the vacant post. Szipak’s dream is to make the island “the Las Vegas of Hungary,” with a luxury casino, and he appoints his ice-queen assistant, Hedi (Anna Feher), to watch over the bumbling Pelikan.
Pelikan, however, is soon targeted by a nationalist group, which presents him the deeds to a worthless sandpit and gets him to bless a new factory dedicated to producing the first Hungarian spinning tops. Szipak sabotages the ceremony and soon Pelikan is caught in a battle between the two sides, with the son of an old Communist tormentor,
Virag, also weighing in for good measure.
Style of the pic is similar to the original, with many comic ceremonies, inflated rhetoric, and an almost cartoonish set of characters. Much of the dialogue is sharp and witty, but for non-Magyars unacquainted with its targets or the various forces at work in contempo Hungary, a lot of the humor will fall flat. Playing is gently exaggerated.
A bigger problem, even for local auds, is that the pic would have been more acute if it had been made at the start of the ’90s, i.e., on the cutting edge of the country’s plunge into capitalism rather than now, when the extremes of both get-rich-quick entrepreneurialism and latent nationalism are less of a laughing matter.
Performances are all fine, with Kallai perfect as the bemused innocent Pelikan and Cserhalmi especially good as the avaricious Szipak.
At two hours-plus, the film would benefit from at least 20 minutes’ shearing to sharpen the pacing. Tech credits are fine, with bright, summery lensing by Tamas Andor and Gyorgy Vukan’s pleasant score adding to the gloss.