Treasure City (Cert 15)

Digital/VOD (Distributor: Sovereign Film Distribution) Running Time: 92 minutes approx.

Release Date – June 18th

“Why do people like me exist?”

Because it takes all sorts to make the world go round? I imagine there are a myriad of answers, philosophical and fundamental, to be given alongside mine to this question but they will never satisfy everyone. A bit like life itself if you think about it, as Hungarian actor and director Szabolcs Hajdu explores.

Over the course of one night, a group of seemingly disparate people will each have a unique experience, some of them intertwining with others. It begins with two woman in conversation, with Kinga (Orsolya Török-Illyés) calling out Dorottya (Fanni Wrochna) for her habitual lies whenever she is relied upon for anything. Later in the film, it is revealed Kinga is part of a political activist group making a public stand outside a government building and is almost arrested for her troubles.

Meanwhile, Angéla (Lilla Sárosdi) takes her daughter Johanna (Magdó Pálfi) to a flower shop, and ends up in a violent argument with the florist. After calming down, they stop off at a café receiving specialised service from the waiter Dénes (Bence Gelányi) whilst a male patron looks on. Elsewhere, a priest, Attila (Hajdu), and his wife Erzsébet (Nóra Földeáki) argue over how best to handle their truculent teenage punk son Mark (Ábel Krokovay) resulting in bitter home truths being shared.

Whilst his parents argue, Mark sneaks off to meet his secret girlfriend Dina (Lujza Hajdu), herself having sneaked out of home against the wishes of (sister? mother?) Kinga, where she is supposed to be with Dorottya. The reason Dorottya isn’t there is her old excuse of her mother being ill, but she is in fact attending a performance by a small theatre group in an apartment, as a guest of a famous director (Árpád Schilling).

After spinning him a pack of lies – including her mother being dead – Dorottya is offered a lift home with the director but soon wishes she hadn’t accepted. Back at home and sick of her parents arguing on what is the 20th anniversary of their first meeting, Johanna sneaks out into the night, picked up by hippy Hernik (Wilhelm Buchmann), and lays a mind-blowing surprise on him.

It might seem as if I have recounted the entire plot of Treasure City but I have barely scratched the surface of what transpires in this 92-minute portmanteau film. The scenes I haven’t mentioned will remain unspoken of because I either didn’t understand them or I couldn’t recognise the characters involved in them – frankly, as the least interesting of the many skeins depicted here, it isn’t crucial omission.

Hajdu clearly has a lot he wants to get off his chest about life in modern Hungary, but rather than take the overt political route he prefers to use ordinary people in everyday situations as allegorical totems for his grievances. Kinga’s activist group shouts the loudest as a blatant cipher yet within the context of this elliptical narrative, it can easily be read as simply reflecting the age of political protest we live in.

Through characters like the director and his predatory treatment of Dorottya and the way he talks down to the actors of the play, Hajdu polemics the political issue of the ruthless preying on the weak, per the quote at the start of the film. One might want to associate it with the #MeToo movement given the nature of the scenario, but it’s a dark and prevalent side of society Hajdu is evidently uncomfortable with, and stands out as a recurrent theme.

Navigating his way through the individual arcs, Hadju is careful in avoiding contrivance when bringing them together, but cleverly drops a few clues we aren’t supposed to notice. Predictability is therefore a rare occurrence in the writing, unless the audience can read Hadju’s mind. For example, I doubt anybody expected Mark with his blue spiky Mohawk and denim jacket adorned with punk emblems to be the one chic Dina (hiding her youth behind a pair of ‘70s shades), was waiting for.

Dina’s deception is ironic given she is a victim of Dorottya’s lies, but if the symbolism of the film’s final shot is to be interpreted literally, life is a never ending circle of tricks, traps, deceit, secrets, ups, downs, rights and wrongs. On this particular night, some people learn harsh lessons, some are forced to confront their fears, and some even confront themselves, but come tomorrow it will happen again, maybe to someone else, maybe somewhere else.

Yet, I am fully prepared to be corrected on this conclusion as, whilst I was able to follow most of it, I did struggle with discerning Hadju’s overall intent for this film because of the patchwork nature of the vignette formula. Not as dense or absurd as Roy Andersson or excessively verbose like Eric Rohmer, it stops short of being a sum of its parts with some of the skits convincing less than others, and the incongruent final scene.

Credit goes to the entire cast for their performances and in bringing Hadju’s cadre of flawed and largely unlikeable characters to life. Despite their great work, not everyone connects with the audience as deeply as they should, a bit of an anomaly since the mise en scène is very intimate, with Csaba Bántó’s camera staying close to its subject as if we are in the conversation with them, our focus on every word uttered.

Subsequently, whilst the situations may be reality based, some of the characters feel a little too constructed for their purpose, like Mark with his archaic punk image as the son of a devout priest, or Angéla and her random meltdowns. Again, this contrasts with the astute observational bent of the writing and natural rhythms of the dialogue that hold our attention.

Treasure City is a well made and cleverly constructed piece of cinema and incisively observed social drama, if a little too easily resigned to its thematic futility with the dubious characterisations and wilfully enigmatic ending.

 

Rating – ***

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