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BLACK NIGHTS 2023 Critics’ Picks

Review: Pelikan Blue


- In his tense animated documentary, László Csaki tells the nostalgic story of the travels and adventures of three Hungarian friends in the early 1990s

Review: Pelikan Blue

“The smell of freedom in the air...” In an Eastern European context, that phrase clearly conjures up the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the boxed-in communist states began to open up to the West’s capitalist goods and its way of life, which also brought freedom to travel, regarded as an essential element to enable young people to get acquainted with the big, wide world beyond the borders of their state. But what can a young person dying to live life to the fullest do if financial resources are scarce?

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Working from an idea by Son of Saul [+see also:
film review
Q&A: László Nemes
interview: László Rajk
film profile
producer Gábor Sipos and Gábor Szentpáli, and using audio interviews from the 2010s as his basis, filmmaker and animator László Csaki has composed a unique animated documentary that could serve as one of the answers to the above question. Pelikan Blue [+see also:
interview: Laszló Csaki
film profile
opened the Critics’ Picks Competition at the Black Nights Film Festival and feels ready to take the film-festival world by storm.

In some fast-paced narration that we hear over the imagery, deriving from different approaches to animation and even comprising some short bursts of filmed archival material, the narrator gives us a brief background story before introducing us to the three leading characters, young men named Ákos, Petya and Laci. They wanted to travel to the West but had no money, so they had to hustle a bit. An opportunity presented itself in the guise of the lo-tech way in which Hungarian Railways dealt with their international tickets: they were all hand-written on paper, with the titular carbon paper used to make copies, and were protected only by stamps. Led by Akos’s analytical, scientific mind, the guys came up with a scheme involving imported bleach, indigo paper and copied stamps to forge the international railway tickets.

Their first trip to Scandinavia went without a hitch, so they kept on indulging in trips all over Western Europe in the early 1990s. But word of their adventures got out and, pressured by their friend Rozi, who had his own list of clients, and spurred on by Petya’s urge to help a girl he liked, their operation first became a clandestine “service” for friends, and then a large-scale and somewhat lucrative scheme that attracted the attention of both the ticket inspectors and the police.

Combining a documentary foundation, an animated approach and a certain reliance on the tenets of a fiction film, Csaki takes the best of all three worlds and combines them with ease in order to tell a magnificent, nostalgic and heart-warming story, while jumping between the two timelines – one from the 1980s and 1990s, and another from the 2010s – leaves enough space for thought and reflection. Since the fast-paced narration serves as the primary means for plot delivery, animation was pretty much the only way to go. Blending the simple 2D foundation with some figurine animation and even filmed archival material suits the purpose very well, while the animation team’s attention to period details, such as the changes in fashion and scenery in the transitional times, is simply stellar. The passing of time is further commented on through the soundtrack, which emphasises it by using different genres of popular music that emerged over the 1990s.

Stitched together masterfully by Daniel Szabó and compressed to a pleasant running time of under 80 minutes, Pelikan Blue is the type of film that leaves a permanent smile on the viewer’s face. It has the power to make us believe that, not that long ago, the world was a far better place.

Pelikan Blue is a Hungarian production by Umbrella and Cinemon Entertainment.

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