A Long Weekend in Pest and Buda (Egy hét Pesten és Budán) Review

Iván (Iván Darvas) was a political prisoner during the Stalinist purges of the 1950s. Now he is living in Lugano with his British wife Amanda (Eileen Atkins). One night he receives a phone call from Budapest that his lover Mari (Mari Törõcsik) is very ill. He flies to Hungary to see Mari in hospital, but he has some revelations in store…

To explain the title: Pest and Buda were once separate cities, on the east and west banks of the Danube respectively, until 1873 when they merged to form Budapest. The film came about when Károly Makk was working on the English-language The Gambler in 1997, when producer Marc Vlessing suggested that he make a film set in modern-day post-Communist Hungary. A Long Weekend in Pest and Buda is the result. It reunites the two lead actors of Makk’s 1971 film Love, and the new film is a follow-up to it. Makk uses extracts from the earlier film as flashbacks, which instantly convey how much time has passed in these people’s lives – even more so for the earlier film being in black and white. Budapest in the early twenty-first century is a very different place, embracing Western capitalism with not always desirable results. Look in the background to some of the exterior scenes and you’ll see a McDonalds sign. One key scene takes place outside the entrance to the Mammut shopping mall, a place that caters more for tourists than for locals due to its (relatively) higher prices. Meanwhile, Iván visits the ailing Mari, and also gets to know her daughter Anna (Eszter Nagy-Kálóry), who might be his as well. And Mari has another secret she has not yet revealed.

A Long Weekend in Pest and Buda is not up to the level of some of the other films Makk made in a long career. Admittedly many of those films are very hard to see – as well as Love, there’s only Another Way on DVD, both of which we have Second Run to thank for. But this newer film still has plenty of things to offer: it’s well acted, the two leads’ long history together not being something that’s easy to fake. Elemár Ragályi’s camerawork and Makk’s direction are elegant, and for a fairly small-scale character-led drama it has the sense to come in under ninety minutes.

A Long Weekend in Pest and Buda arrives on a dual-layered DVD encoded for all regions. The transfer, approved by Makk, is in 1.78:1 (opened up slightly from the theatrical ratio of 1.85:1) and anamorphically enhanced. Given the “mature”, autumnal subject matter – and, more pragmatically the age of the two leads, this is a soft-focus film with muted colours, all of which is quite intentional.

The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0, which plays as Dolby Surround with your amp set to analogue or Prologic. This is very much a dialogue-driven film, which naturally comes out of the centre speaker. The soundstage expands in some exterior scenes, for ambience, such as in an early scene in an airport. Most of the dialogue is in Hungarian with optional English subtitles. The scenes between Iván Darvas and Eileen Atkins are in English: no subtitles are available for these.

The extras on the disc comprise two interviews. The first is with Makk (19:54). He confesses that he found the idea of revisiting recent Hungarian history uncomfortable, and would rather have made another English-language film instead. But once he had decided to make this one, the idea of using the two principal actors from Love was there from the beginning, though the intention was not to create a sequel. Makk explains that the clips from Love were an idea of his editor’s that he went along with – especially to create a sense of the passage of time and his characters old and younger selves – but the backstory of Pest and Buda is subtly different to that of Love. This interview is in Hungarian with optional English subtitles.

The other interview is with producer Marc Vlessing (12:31), conducted in English. Vlessing explains how he met Makk when he directed The Gambler and caught up with Makk’s older films that were available, especially Love. Vlessing suggested to him that he could make a film in contemporary Hungary, something Makk was reluctant to do at first.

Also included with the DVD is a booklet which features articles by Mari Törõcsik on her work with Makk, and an essay on Makk’s career and Pest and Buda by John Cunningham.

Second Run are doing a lot to make Eastern European cinema, past and present, more widely available, and at affordable prices. By so doing they are helping to enhance the reputations of directors such as Károly Makk, whose films have often been difficult to see. A Long Weekend in Pest and Buda will certainly add to that reputation.

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