The golden era of Hungarian Film was shortly after the second world war. In the midst of communist oppression the arts could flourish as there were issues to talk about from the brutal actions of the state police to the absurd operation of the whole system. However, after the Berlin wall fell, and democracy returned to the other half of Europe everything seemed possible and the euphoria had an affect on the film industry as well. As problems seemed non-existent the quality of pictures started to decline. Now as the shadows of authoritarianism loom over the country, and with the industry getting sufficient funding a new generation of films is getting close to the quality of those in the 1960s. Amongst these is Attila Gigor’s 2016 film Well.
Laci is not doing anything with his life, so his mother decides to take him and introduce him to his father who lives and works at a petrol station near the Austrian-Hungarian border. There he makes a friend in a disabled person and soon a group of prostitutes stop at the station. As they spend more time with each other personal dramas and secrets begin to unveil.
The main focus of Gigor’s film is on hopelessness. Symbolized by the isolated petrol station operated by two people: an alcoholic 60 year old and a cripple. No one wants to be at the station, yet there is nowhere to go from here and nothing to do as hinted by the truck on the road: when it goes out of the country it is empty and has nothing to offer, however on its way back it is full of cars.
The only way to spend time here is to tell stories. It doesn’t matter if they are true or not, as in this life nothing matters. The film perfectly captures the contemporary problems of the left behind Eastern Europe and people’s desperation to get out of it which is either through prostitution or violence. As the bible story is quoted “everyone who drinks from this water will be thirsty again.” In order to get out of their meaningless lives these people have to use violence, or take part in organized crime but in order to keep their standards they have to use more and more which results in an endless circle of violence. This is demonstrated in the film since from a certain point of view in the end the situation is exactly the same as it was in the beginning.
The film’s cinematography reflects its somber tone. Its blunt colours and minimalistic set design are a perfect addition to the script. The characters are simple yet they feel real thanks to the brilliantly written dialogue that cannot be overshadowed by the mixed quality of acting. Although Nóra Trokán and especially Roland Tzafetás both shine in their roles as the not too bright but likeable prostitute and the story telling cripple (with the help of bigger names in Hungarian acting as side characters), the two thugs played by Ferenc Pusztai and Csaba Horváth, and the Marcsi (Laci’s love interest) played by Niké Kurta fail to live up to their levels.
Well perfectly demonstrates the hopelessness of the Hungarian countryside and manages to reflect to the situation of other left behind regions elswhere in the world. To compare it to better known films its themes and tones are similar to Hell or High Water (2016) or No Country for Old Men (2007).
When Marcsi confronts Zoli about the unlikelihood of his claims by saying they are “impossible” and “they are just made up stories and this is life” he responds: “There is not much difference.” There is not, because from this point in their lives there is no way out, doesn’t matter what kind of miraculous event happens. With its timely subject material Well proudly stands amongst not only the best contemporary Hungarian films but manages to be understandable and meaningful to a global audience as well, hence it is a perfect introduction to the rich pool of the Eastern European film-selection.
Well, 2016, Directed by Attila Gigor, Starring: Péter Jankovics, Roland Tzafetás, Nóra Trokán, Niké Kurta, Zsolt László, Zsolt Kovács and Lia Pokorny