I LOVE BUDAPEST (Ágnes Incze, 2001)

We have now seen numerous films about countryfolk who lose their way in the urban environment to which they have moved in hopes of the promised better, more exciting life. Indeed, this is a central theme in one of the great American novels, Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, which follows a small-town girl to Chicago to survey the bankruptcy of the American Dream, although the book was initially suppressed on other grounds. As you may know, Hungary’s writer-director Ágnes Incze’s I Love Budapest, whose title is sincere or ironical depending on the cock of one’s head, one’s vantage at a particular moment, drew a storm of criticism, especially in the United States, for its resolution, which involves a secular version of the Classical deus ex machina—what we now call magic realism. A couple in a car that is the object of a police pursuit rises above the street into the heavens and is left there in advancing motion, with the girl, especially, evidencing the wonder of her new environment. We have seen by this point a lot of frustrating things on earth: choking factory work, for which one must wear a filtering mask, for example; drug-dealing, for another. Can this young couple find happiness? Apparently, yes, as long as they occupy a flying car, the point perhaps being, flying cars are hard to come by. Is there something wrong with such an ending? I think not; and what I want to address is why others think the contrary. After all, Hungarian cinema has given us fantastical sights before without incurring the same negative reactions: Gyula Gazdag’s Hol volt, hol nem volt (1987; called A Hungarian Fairy Tale in the States) and Ildikó Enyedi’s Büvös vadász (Magic Hunter, 1994) are two examples. I have a theory as to why I Love Budapest wasn’t given the same “pass.” The other two films coincided with the collapse of Communism in Hungary, one preceding it by two years, the other following it by five; their fantastical elements were conveniently interpreted in the West as flights from Communism—a stance Westerners could easily wrap their heads around. According to this view, which is at least partially correct, there is no need for such mediating cinematic strategies now that Hungarian communism is a thing of the past. I submit that this view is wrong insofar as problems continue, some even having been made worse by the exit of Communism; and Hungarian flair for magic and fantasy is a cultural element that transcends politics in any case. Communism is gone, but some in the West will not let it go, insisting that the light of realism be let in, in Hungary, that is, because we all know how “realistic” American films are!
     I Love Budapest is a minor work—a slight Hungarian rhapsody; let’s not get bent out of shape by its charming, spirited ending.

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