- Gábor Herendi's film is a somewhat cheesy, however firm in its Eastern gloominess (melo)drama on addiction, interpersonal power and the inevitable clash between strong ego
Could there ever be such a thing as a lighthearted movie about heavy drug abuse? Hungarian director Gábor Herendi takes up the challenge with his latest feature Toxikoma, shown within the New Hungarian Film program of the European Film Festival Palić. After gaining fame for his locally successful comedy sequel of three parts A Kind of America, about the unconventional American dream of a film director wannabe, his latest feature – very different in genre and style, but still aimed at a wide audience and not too distant from the types of characters Herendi is usually curious about – explores the next possible stage after a wannabe fulfils his show business ambition and turns into a celebrity.
Based on the autobiographical book by popular Hungarian actor Győző Szabó (who appears in A Kind of America and in the hilarious Budapest subway comedy Kontroll [+see also:
film profile]), Toxikoma follows the hard drugs addiction battle of a showman character with the same name (passionately performed by Áron Molnár) through his complex relationship with his psychiatrist Dr. Chernus (Bányai Kelemen Brown). Győző maintains an insane rhythm with the help of regular heroine shots as a relaxation tool, while swaying in an absent-minded state between music gigs, TV shows, the theatre stage and family life. A thankfully harmless motorcycle accident forces him to justify his deeds before the law, and that is how he ends up in Dr. Chernus’ alternative method therapy group in psychiatry, where patients are not asked to take pills, but responsibility for their actions and decisions. A fierce confrontation erupts between the spoiled, self-assertive, narcissistic Győző and the authoritarian, workaholic, grumpy chainsmoker Chernus, who presents himself in a God-like position and aims to castrate his patient’s sense of impunity. Győző continuously and childishly fights back, but with discerning revelations about the doctor’s weak points, and so this rather inelegant but eventually healing duel gradually takes them both through a life-turning catharsis.
Despite the fraught topic, Toxikoma is audience friendly, as it focuses more on human relationships than on the issue of addiction. The balance between psychological drama and melodrama, lightened and polished by typical genre patterns, also help us overlook some gaps in the logic of the plot – such as, for example, why Győző is not sent to court for driving while doped up. Making up for the ultimately rather random and superficial handling of the drugs theme are the insightful verbal but also physical confrontations between the main characters. The script’s strongest aspect is the solid and rich portrayal of two particular personalities in opposition who, at the end of the day, turn out to be very much alike in their stubbornness to follow their own paths, whatever the consequences might be. The dynamic cinematography (by Péter Szatmári, experienced in TV aesthetics), spiced up here and there by animated images that literally transmit Győző´s stoned hallucinations, together with deft editing (István Király and Tomi Szabo) make of Toxikoma a dark-ish but smooth journey through personal crisis and behavioural patterns that are easy to identify with.
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