The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - TREASURE CITY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - TREASURE CITY

treasure city review
Various characters' lives intersect over a night in a Hungarian city.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Szabolcs Hajdu

Starring: Árpád Schilling, Domokos Szabó, Fanni Wrochna, Lilla Sárosdi, Lujza Hajdu, Magdó Pálfi, Nóra Földeáki, Orsolya Török-Illyés, Szabolcs Hajdu, Wilhelm Buchmann

treasure city poster

Hungarian writer/director Szabolcs Hajdu opens his ensemble drama Treasure City with a quote from Thomas Bernhard, which reads "As if just then everything was possible: the ugly approaches the beautiful, and vice versa, the ruthless and the weak."

His film is populated by the ruthless and the weak, though it's not always clear which category each particular character falls into.

With Treasure City, Hajdu portrays Orban-era Hungary as a deeply divided nation. State radio broadcasts constantly relay scare stories about crimes committed by immigrants in liberal European countries like Sweden and Germany. Passersby scream at opposition protesters, accusing them of being communists. A store clerk treats a migrant customer with disdain, provoking an in-store row.

treasure city review

The divisions aren't just political, but also seem to be tearing apart relationships. A pastor (played by the director and looking a lot like The Simpsons' Ned Flanders) and his wife constantly bicker over how to raise their insolent son, who is going through a punk rock phase, sporting an elaborate Mohawk and refusing to eat his greens. An actor's failure to remember an anniversary leads his wife to reveal an incident of infidelity involving an underage boy.

Elsewhere there are odd moments of connection. A long-haired hippy bonds with a taciturn hitch-hiker. A dolled-up teenage girl has her palm read by a pretentious train passenger before a rendezvous with the aforementioned punk.

treasure city review

With its series of eventually overlapping vignettes, Treasure City has something of the feel of a Roy Andersson film, but formally the Swede and the Hungarian are poles apart. Both employ unbroken long takes that allow us to soak up individual scenes, but where Andersson sets up immaculately framed, locked down shots, Hajdu's camera is constantly floating around his subjects, as though attached to a goldfish in some human aquarium. Some of the shots appear to play around with time, advancing several seconds or minutes or perhaps even hours in the space of a camera pan. In the manner of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, conversations and arguments ramble on and evolve to the point where both the participants and the audience forget what the initial intent was.

Some of the storylines lead to tragedy, some to hopefulness, while some simply dissolve into the night. They have the feel of some newly unearthed stories by Raymond Carver, the author whose work provided the basis for Robert Altman's similarly constructed Short Cuts. With its nocturnal setting, the film resembles a dark cousin to Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth. As dark as it gets, it offers some wry moments of comedy, like how the punk is forced to keep his head tilted while in his father's car so as not to ruin his Mohawk, or a woman's delight at being treated well by a waiter after a row with an ignorant florist. Said waiter staffs a curiously quiet hotel bar that wouldn't be out of place in Twin Peaks, and it almost feels like some half-lit waiting room in purgatory.

treasure city review

Treasure City begs repeat viewings to soak up details you might have missed, and I suspect it may be more rewarding on a rewatch with a familiarity with its characters. I've only watched it once, and I found it thoroughly intoxicating, one of those all too rare films that keep you entranced, blissfully ignorant of what might happen next. I certainly couldn't have predicted the final scene, which springs a magical surprise that feels like a nod to Tarkovsky.

Hungary may be in a sorry state as a society, but Treasure City is the latest of many recent movies that prove the Eastern-European nation boasts one of the continent's most exciting film industries.

Treasure City is in UK cinemas and on VOD from June 18th.

2021 movie reviews