Winner of the best film award at Karlovy Vary and given its second berth at the Warsaw Film Festival, Szabolcs Hadju’s It’s Not the Time of My Life is an engrossing, poignant and often very funny study of marriage, family and child rearing. The film gets an unusual degree of realism from the fact that married couple Farkas and Eszter (Orsolya Török-Illyés) and their son Bruno (Zsigmond Hajdu) are played by the director and his family, while the action takes place exclusively in their cosy real-life Budapest apartment.
All is not well as we’re introduced to the couple; five-year- old Bruno is constantly misbehaving and Farkas holds his wife responsible for it, while cold-heartedly confessing that his own child irritates him. Matters are complicated by the unannounced arrival of Eszter’s sister Ernella (Erika Tankó) along with husband Albert (Domokos Szabó) and teenage daughter Laura (played by Hadju’s daughter own Lujza), who have just returned from an abortive emigration to Scotland and have nowhere to stay back in Hungary. Right from the get-go there is a noticeable lack of warmth between the couples, particularly between the two men. When Albert claims he planned to return to Hungary within a year, Farkas snidely contradicts him with notes from his diary in which Albert states his intention to spend “at least ten years” abroad.
The less well off in-laws betray their socioeconomic insecurity through envious remarks about their relatives’ spacious, centrally located apartment and the exotic travels documented in the family photo album, all the while discussing how to extract a generous loan from them. This underlying tension is unleashed when the visitors are blamed for valuables that go missing, and yet the incident ends up bringing the couples closer together. It’s Not the Time of My Life is full of such intelligent surprises, such as when Albert sheepishly admits he sees Farkas as his “best friend”, or when Farkas confesses his jealousy of Bruno’s perceived monopoly over his wife’s affections. Hadju is never in danger of losing control of his complex arrangement of characters and conflicts – on the contrary he fully succeeds in tying them together naturally.
Farkas’ resentment of his in-laws leads him to unfairly blame Ernella’s genes for Bruno’s bad behaviour, while Ernella’s envy of her sister’s ‘perfect family’ undergoes a reality check when she sees how dysfunctional they really are. All this is especially impressive given how much time Hadju spends in front of the camera as well as behind it; as an actor he really brings to life Farkas’ unstable combination of both attention-seeking wittiness and self-doubting vulnerability. The overall impression of It’s Not the Time of My Life is one of intimacy and privileged access, for which the camerawork and set design deserve great credit (a minor miracle when one considers that the film was shot by no less than thirteen of Hadju’s own film students).
Intense close-ups and curiously roving tracking shots put one right in the middle of the family breakups and makeups, while shots framed creatively through windows or from behind door frames give the viewer the guilty pleasure of being an unseen voyeur. In contrast to the meticulously curated living spaces one tends to encounter in cinema, the actual ‘inhabited-ness’ of Hadju’s apartment gives it an immediacy and believability that would be hard to fake. Topped off with the understated yet wholly satisfying way in which Hadju resolves his film, this chamber piece is as good as they come.
Maximilian Von Thun | @M3Yoshioka