Here in the UK, the only time we hear about Hungary is when someone on the news or elsewhere compares that country’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, to Donald Trump. He’s autocratic, a nationalist and, by all accounts, pals around with fascists. It might seem rather surprising, then, that Hungarian film For Some Inexplicable Reason appears to be a routine quirky comedy about a nerdy man-child rather than an angry leftist polemic. But look under the bonnet of Gábor Reisz’s debut and you’ll discover there’s more going on than it first appears.
We first meet crumpled 29-year-old Áron (Áron Ferenczik) as he throws himself to the ground over and over again – he’s pretending to die because his girlfriend Eszter (Juli Jakab) has recently left him. It turns out this is only the tip of a veritable iceberg of personal woes – he has no job, no direction, seems to resent his more grown-up friends, and has controlling parents, who treat him like a child. Still, at least he has a degree in, um, film history and theory.
Spending time, even a mere 96 minutes, with Áron is hard work. He mopes about Budapest, clad in clothes most charity shops would reject, hoping to run into Eszter, who has commendably wasted no time at all in finding herself a new man. He’s difficult to sympathise with, the sort of chap your gran would command to smarten up, get a job, and sort himself out; the kind of twenty-something loser Simon Pegg used to play, albeit with all the charm (and Star Wars references) removed.
The movie meanders as much as its protagonist. In fact, every time you think For Some Inexplicable Reason is about to reveal a major narrative hook – when Áron falls for a pretty ticket inspector on a tram or drunkenly buys a plane ticket to Lisbon – it heads off at a tangent, kicking the plot point down the road to explore later on (and to be fair, both matters are eventually resolved).
The film is imaginatively directed, with lots of asides and sight gags but there are so many of these – including a song towards the end – they soon start to feel contrived, as if Reisz is terrified of letting the energy drop for even a second lest his audience pop to the loo or fall asleep.
Despite its problems, For Some Inexplicable Reason does contain several very funny moments. There’s a great bit when Áron attempts to confront his old school bully – the wonderfully named David Amigo (Máté Mészáros) – in a bar and discovers a man even more beaten down by life than he is, and another terrific scene in which the sight of a semi-naked young woman waiting for him on her bed induces full-on panic (“Is this… sex?!”).
The film’s ace in the hole, though, is that it isn’t what it first appears to be. Writer/director Reisz wants us to like Áron, of course, but clearly hopes we find his apathy thoroughly exasperating too. The film’s protagonist spends his entire life with his head down, seemingly only really interested in his own problems, while Hungary’s politics proceed to take a very ugly turn.
There’s a telling moment when the subject of the country’s 2012 student protests, over cuts to college tuition subsidies, comes up and self-absorbed Áron can’t remember the name of the government minister – Rozsa Hoffmann – at the centre of it all. Another segment has him on hold, waiting for ages to speak to his mum on the phone. A sort of montage segment follows in which he wanders through Budapest encountering all manner of events – demos, a mass bicycle ride and even an open-air pop concert – but notices nor engages with any of them.
Made in 2014, For Some Inexplicable Reason is, I suspect, a reaction to Orbán’s election as Prime Minister in 2010. Despite the gags and surreal moments, it is actually intended as a critique of young Magyars like Áron, who absent themselves from the debate or leave Hungary altogether, instead of fighting to make it a better place. His apathy is clearly infectious too – at the start of the film, when he’s collapsing in the street or on the subway, pretending to die, no one lifts a finger to help.
The ArteKino Festival runs online between 1-31 December 2018.