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BLACK NIGHTS 2023 Critics’ Picks

Laszló Csaki • Director of Pelikan Blue

“Directors should only make films about the things they know”

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- The Hungarian director immortalises a train-ticket scam in this animation for adults, the first-ever animated flick to be shown in Critics’ Picks

Laszló Csaki • Director of Pelikan Blue

In Laszló Csaki’s animation Pelikan Blue [+see also:
film review
interview: Laszló Csaki
film profile
]
, based on a true story, three young Hungarians can finally start travelling to the West in the late 1980s – the problem is, they don’t actually have any money. Many failed experiments later, they are able to successfully forge train tickets. But as word gets around, their crazy idea soon turns into a business. We spoke to the director after his film screened in Critics’ Picks at Tallinn Black Nights.

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Cineuropa: Animated films for adults are becoming more common these days. That said, yours is actually very sweet – it’s the nostalgia that makes it more appropriate for older viewers.
Laszló Csaki:
I have never made children’s content in my life – I make films for adults. I know it’s a bit more complicated from the perspective of distribution and sales, but that’s my type of stories. That said, Pelikan Blue has just been rated, and it can be watched by kids who are over 16 years old. It’s about entering adulthood, which makes it a coming-of-age-story, and about this kind of rebellion and longing for freedom that you start to feel when you are in high school, I think.

The style of animation you chose is very bright and joyful, even though you talk about a complicated historical moment.
Directors should only make films about the things they know. I was part of these events, I witnessed them, and for me, the 1990s was a very hopeful time. Everyone was looking forward to the future. We were finally free to travel, organise a film festival or open a bar. I wanted to show this hope. I have never felt this kind of happiness since, and I guess I wanted the colourfulness of this film to express that.

Do you think it’s the right time for a story like this? We are not very hopeful these days.
It’s a documentary and a time capsule, but I think it actually resembles modern-day Hungary, too. Going from one established world order to another is a very peculiar sensation: I certainly tried to capture that. It’s amazing to think I was born in a completely different reality and got to experience this whole transition. I could make so many films based on that experience alone. I think movies like this one are needed, because they can show the audience what we did right and what we did wrong.

What makes it fun is that the stakes are relatively low, but it still feels like an Ocean’s Eleven kind of heist – albeit on a budget. There is something disarming about these guys, experimenting at home.
Many years ago, I also used fake tickets when I was travelling. I even made them myself! I was very interested in the whole process, but I also caught myself wondering how I dared to do that. Today, I wouldn’t be able to. When I first heard this story and realised it involved such a simple method, it was so funny to me. That alone deserved its own movie. Think about it – it gave these people so much freedom and yet it was so easy to do! You didn’t need a lot of money or any complicated machinery. You needed Domestos and some lemon juice. That’s why I wanted to share it with others. There are twists and turns, just like in every crime caper, but everything started at a kitchen table.

Do you see these kids as underdogs? They were isolated for so long and then rigged the system to finally see the world.
They were actually quite typical Hungarian youngsters, especially at that time. So many people used these tickets, although fewer decided to produce them. One of these three characters spots a business opportunity and breaks the law, that’s true, but there was this huge economic crisis in Hungary at the time. People were unemployed; they didn’t have any money.

Despite all these issues that some of us still remember, there is a huge demand for 1990s nostalgia right now. Do you think it might be good for the film?
Trends can help, so there is hope, but we never wanted to make a “trendy” film or a movie about the 1990s. It just felt like an important story to tell. Also, we can talk about that moment and really go into detail, because we lived through it. We know what we are talking about.

Or you can choose to reference the most famous scene in Closely Watched Trains, even though Jiří Menzel himself got in trouble for it.
We got some criticism for that, too! But we really love it, and I hope people will understand this nod. At one point, we also wanted to reference David Lynch, although we ended up cutting it, as well as Edward Hopper’s paintings and Lucian Freud’s colours. Jiří Menzel died during the production of our film, and given that both are about trains, I just wanted to pay my respects. These films show big history through very ordinary people.

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