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VENICE 2023 Orizzonti

Gábor Reisz • Director of Explanation for Everything

"We had to show every single side of these characters"


- VENICE 2023: The Hungarian filmmaker unpicks his new movie and explains its many nuances, painting a composite picture of modern-day society in his country

Gábor Reisz  • Director of Explanation for Everything
(© Pál Czirják)

Selected for the 80th Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti line-up, Explanation for Everything [+see also:
film review
interview: Gábor Reisz
film profile
is Hungarian director Gábor Reisz’s 3rd feature film after For Some Inexplicable Reason [+see also:
film review
film profile
(screened in Karlovy Vary’s 2014 East of the West line-up) and Bad Poems [+see also:
film review
film profile
(discovered in Tallinn Black Nights and awarded a Special Mention in Turin 2018).

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Cineuropa: Was there a political motivation behind Explanation for Everything?
Gábor Reisz
: No, I don’t work that way. I tend to start with ideas for stories or a few specific details. This time round, the original idea was to make a film about someone who wears a nationalist badge during their baccalauréat exam, who fails that exam and who then lies about it to their father. It was on that basis that me and my co-screenwriter Éva Schulze, who was also my teacher and is now my mentor, started to think about the story. She asked me to write about the characters. So I wrote for three months in the first person singular, and that really helped me construct the characters. Then, she had the idea of having the story start the night before the exam, and that was a turning point in the writing process because we realised we had to show every single side of these characters. Then things started to move very quickly: we wrote from November to July, and we began shooting in August.

Was this story about a nationalist badge worn during an exam inspired by real events?
No. There’s a lot that’s personal in the script. The idea for the badge came out of nowhere, in a sense.

Does the film revolve around youth in general or Hungarian youth specifically?
It wasn’t an intentional thing, but when this idea came to me there was a student blockade taking place at the university where I studied film, in protest against a reform of the educational system. Lots of artists, including filmmakers, came out in support of these youngsters, and I took part too. These students were labelled as lefties, communists and anarchists by the media when all they were were 18 or 19-year-old youngsters who wanted to be free to study. It really moved me and no doubt inspired me.

Over and above the film’s backdrop of an ideologically bipolarised society, education seems to be the movie’s main focus, explored through the characters of the aspiring high school graduate son, the father who’s obsessed with academic success, and the history teacher…
That’s right. The pressure Abel’s parents put on him is the same as I felt at high school: family pressure which wants to see you admitted to university even if you don’t want to go. I remember that sensitive time really well: you’re only 18 years old, it’s the first time you’ve been in love, the first time you really become aware of the environment around you, and it’s really difficult to make decisions about your future. That was the state that I wanted to convey in the film. 

How did you avoid excessive political Manicheism?
That was the hardest part. I don’t even really know myself where exactly I stand, politically speaking: my parents were right-wing but my friends were the total opposite. I thought it was really important to show the characters’ positive and negative sides and to not opt for a traditional narrative with a protagonist and an antagonist. And I felt the same when it came to society, because I wanted to show how each of the two political camps had their traumas and their grievances. It helps to clarify who the main characters are and why they behave the way they do.

You also broach the issue of media hype and fake news…
That was also inspired by the film school protests, because there were huge distortions in how these students and their teachers were presented in the media. In Hungarian newspapers, these kinds of distortions are par for the course and go unpunished.

Yours is a story spanning ten days with distinct chapters for the three main characters, as well as for the journalist character. What attracted you to this complex narrative structure which you previously experimented with in a different way in Bad Poems?
I believe you have to have fun when you make films. Finding an experimental way to tell a story is really fun and it’s also a challenge in terms of the script and the editing process. Finding innovative paths is also very important in the current landscape where we have millions of films at our fingertips, platforms, the fact that everyone has a story to tell, etc.

What were your main priorities when it came to the film’s mise en scène and photography?
We only had a small budget, so my director of photography Kristóf Becsey and I opted for a Dogma-style approach: natural light, no camera movements, sets which were as realistic as possible, a small team… It was a budget thing, but it was also because I really like that style: it means you can be flexible, you can improvise… Kristóf and I have known each other since my first feature film and we worked really quickly, sometimes filming in five different locations in one day. And we always do one rehearsal in situ before filming. We film that rehearsal and then watch the tape back, which really helps us decide how we’re going to shoot the film for real.

Given that the film explores Hungarian politics in great detail, what kind of reaction are you expecting when it’s released at home on 5 October?
I don’t know. I’ll be really happy if people from all political camps go to see the film so that it serves to open up debate, because there are a lot of problems and, one way or another, we have to communicate.

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(Translated from French)

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