Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Fifth Seal [1976]

The Fifth Seal, directed by Hungarian filmmaker Zoltán Fábri, was a bleak, bitter and biting exposition on a draconian and oppressive political climate marked by complete loss of personal identity and freedom, and where a candid and rambling conversation even among acquaintances within a closed space is shrouded with constant suspicion and can potentially lead to devastation consequences for all. Set in Budapest during the final, and possibly most destructive, phase of WWII, it begins with 4 friends with each representing divergent personality types – sarcastic watchmaker Miklós (Lajos Öze),  excitable book-seller László (László Márkus), mild-mannered carpenter János (Sándor Horváth), and gregarious barkeeper Béla (Ferenc Bencze) – having a casual chat over smokes and drinks at the joint owned by Béla. A crippled and nervous fifth man (István Dégi) joins them as their discussion, which veers between politics and philosophy, becomes increasingly heated. A difficult question by Miklós, in particular, has all rattled – their reactions during their stay there and more so after they leave the bar, provided sharp insights into each of these people. But what happens thereafter took the film from an disconcerting to a deeply disturbing zone, as the fifth man, miffed at his idealistic, albeit insincere, response to Miklós’ question being summarily rejected, reports about them to the secret police. There, after a grueling session of torture for apparently no reason, the 4 friends are asked to do something that would earn them their physical freedom, and again their responses there added further dimensions to this grim and haunting film. The washed-out blue-tinged photography added sombre touches to the characters’ lives and the dismal times they reside in.

Director: Zoltan Fabri
Genre: Drama/Political Drama
Language: Hungarian
Country: Hungary

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