Review: Paying a Visit to Fortuna
by Elena Lazic
- Mátyás Kálmán’s compassionate documentary follows a couple struggling to adjust to their new millionaire status
It is unclear whether the idea that money cannot buy happiness does not cross the minds of middle-aged couple Anikó and Laci, the subjects of Mátyás Kálmán’s Paying a Visit to Fortuna, in the few days after their lottery win; or if it would simply be too outrageous for anyone as poor as they used to be to even utter the aphorism. Playing in the Documentary Competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival, the film shows that money can in fact buy a lot of things, especially for people like this Hungarian couple, who have been through so much and used to have so little.
Even then, it does not take long for this money pot — worth more than € 2 million — to become a source of tension and stress. Kálmán’s approach is straightforward, following the evolution of the couple’s situation chronologically over a period of three years, and perhaps it is all this time spent together that allows him to get his subjects to open up more and more about the dissatisfactions that come with their unexpected blessing. It also means that we, the audience, come to understand some of the motivations behind the couple’s contrasting money decisions at the same time as they do: never looking down on his subjects, or even staying at an objective remove from them, Kálmán never presumes to know what they should do better than they do, and compassionately follows them as they work it all out for themselves.
What also helps the film avoid the usual ironies of films about the nouveau riche — vulgar external signifiers of wealth standing in sharp contrast with a climate of generalised boredom and misery — is that the couple does not in fact indulge in many unnecessary or superficial pleasures. Instead, Anikó takes control of the couple’s finances, invests in real estate and stocks, and realises her dream of owning a small café. She becomes so busy that she hires a personal driver to get her to her many meetings and appointments. Laci, meanwhile, having quit his menial job the day following his big win, now spends all his time at home watching television. When asked on the local radio station which one of his dreams he plans to make come true with this money, his only stated wish is to travel the world. It’s a relatively easy goal to fulfil compared to Anikó’s extremely ambitious plans, but the easy-going and generally jovial man explains that they cannot go far due to his wife being afraid of flying.
Laci understandably takes a backseat in the first part of the film, the proactive Anikó leading their story with a firm grip — too firm for some, who do not appreciate the way she soon begins trying to control everyone around her with her money. She is soon humbled by a few bad investments, but still struggles to understand why a wall now stands between her and her husband. When Laci reappears in the film, it is only in relief, as a structuring absence. Nowhere near as open to the camera as his wife — whose refreshing frankness about her own shortcomings sometimes morphs, fascinatingly so, into a less likeable lament about all the ways in which the world is failing her — he vanishes into alcoholism, and it is the crumbling of their marriage that will force both parties to face up their frustrations and talk about their contrasting desires.
Kálmán’s film is a modest endeavour, but that is to its advantage, grounding as it does these people into reality and never losing sight of the real love and compassion that unites them, even as they get carried away by their ambitions and fears.
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