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PALIĆ 2018

Review: Manhood


- Péter Politzer’s work is a stylish "vision fugitive" which employs a poetics worthy of New Wave cinema to describe three particular moments in the lives of three modern-day Budapest men

Review: Manhood

Going by the title of this film, which sees Hungarian editor Péter Politzer try his hand at directing for the first time, we could be forgiven for thinking that his full-length feature, Manhood [+see also:
film profile
, screening in the New Hungarian Cinema section of the 25th European Film Festival Palić, will offer some kind of response to the current debates on the definition of sexual identity. But that couldn’t be further from the truth: it’s far more poetic, and far subtler than all that. Filmed in black and white, Politzer’s work showcases his utterly stylish editorial approach which results in a rhythm that is at once intensive and brooding. It displays a level of class that is reminiscent of New Wave cinema – classically chic through and through but also thoroughly modern, with a markedly light-handed humanism at its core.

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We follow the three characters one at a time, over the course of a day, from the moment they wake up in the morning. The story progresses chronologically, though not necessarily in linear fashion, because it takes a subjective approach to presenting the lives of its three male characters, of three different ages: Samu, a mixed-race pre-adolescent who exchanges sweet nothings with one of his female classmates as he waits, today just like every other day, for the homecoming of his mother, who lies pale and frail in her hospital bed, as if life has already departed her; Frank, a forty-something double bassist who cares for his two daughters in the absence of his wife and who must produce a baton for his orchestra conductor, but who finds himself faced with all kinds of unexpected events just moments before the main concert of the evening is due to commence; and Dezso, a somewhat eccentric photographer in his nineties who looks back over his life, narrating, amongst other things, the cancer of his fifth, pianist wife, as the audience idly observes the calm and tranquil movements he makes from the moment he wakes, until the sun sets. Three slices of life, at once everyday and momentous, are served to us as they come, with dotted lines in the place of explanation, offering possible links which may or may not exist between these stories. These links are suggested only very fleetingly - notably by the omnipresent playing of musical instruments – and the film doesn’t invite us to take them any further, as if wishing them to remain within the realm of poetical allusion.

In league with its masterful editing, the film’s exquisite soundscape (composed of sporadic jazz pizzicati à la Mingus and other musically proficient harmonious discords brought forth by the film’s many instruments) and its photography (which is superb and infinitely subtle, belying a level of skill which has no need for dramatic flourishes, whether we’re observing the characters’ faces, hands or objects of their attention close up, or whether we’re distancing ourselves from the characters’ bodies, so as to place them within the architecture of the daily settings of their lives) enhance Politzer’s work, which becomes a delicate puzzle where artistic haziness and ellipses are left to the mind of the viewer. They come to represent the very humanity of the film: its sensitivity, which is all the more overwhelming for its understated presence, and its brilliance, for providing us with three portraits which are as modern and accurate as they are unfinished and open-ended.

Manhood is produced by Hungarian firm Katapult Film, which is also managing international sales.

(Translated from French)

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