Rengeteg : Hungary 2003 : FLIEGAUF Benedek : 90 mins

Forest begins with a wordless sequence in which we see people entering a busy shopping mall, to a soundtrack dominated by an ominous, rhythmic rumbling. The camera holds on certain faces for a few seconds before moving on. Next, in a series of long scenes, we see these people going about separate lives which occasionally intersect. The film ends with a repeat of the opening sequence – which by now has an altogether different set of meanings and resonances.

Last year a pair of promising new Hungarian directors emerged on the international film-festival circuit in Kornel Mondruzco (Pleasant Days) and Gyorgy Palfi (Hukkle). Now along comes Benedek Fliegauf, whose debut announces a film-maker not merely of strong potential, but of impressive achievement. David Stratton’s review of Forest in Variety magazine includes two startling facts – that Fliegauf’s application to the Hungarian Film School was rejected (how long will those responsible remain in their posts?) and that Forest‘s large cast* is made up entirely of (unpaid) non-actors.

If this is true, Hungary must either have a huge reservoir of untapped talent among its ordinary citizens, or else Fliegauf is some kind of genius at handling his ‘performers.’.There’s no weak link in any of the scenes, which are usually intense two-handers between people in various kind of relationship or personality crisis. We’re never “told” who any of the characters are, or where they live, or (in many cases) their names. Zoltan Lovasi’s hand-held digital-video camera is almost invariably ‘in your face’ – or rather in their faces – holding close-ups for minutes at a time, or swinging back and forth between the participants to record their reactions: there are few cuts within scenes (Lili Fodor is credited as editor).

Though full of talk, Forest is an inscrutable structure riddled with tantalising ellipses: the film is a mood piece, constantly hovering between comedy and nightmare. Scenes may begin in relatively innocuous style, but soon detour into troubling, sinister territory – as when a thirtysomething father discusses his 10-year-old’s dawning sexuality with his increasingly unsettled wife; or when the discussion between a pair of young lads, apparently about the purchase of an old car, takes an abrupt turn into weirdness as they start talking about another, unspecified, apparently human ‘object’ one of them has acquired.

Dialogue-heavy and structured as a series of confrontations, Forest may seem like material better suited to the stage than the screen – or perhaps a short-story collection. But Fliegauf (with Lovasi) is careful to make this an explicitly cinematic experience: the tight focus and wobbly pans emphasise just how much we are being directed towards certain details – it’s often frustrating that we aren’t allowed to see the ‘whole picture,’ especially towards the end when there’s a very mysterious, short sequence set around a campfire.

At such times, Fliegauf’s approach can feel like a slightly strained kind of strained eeriness – the nature of the project is such that some will inevitably complain that it is too wilfully and self-indulgently enigmatic. But the director’s intriguing ideas about storytelling style and content, plus his assured control of sound and image suggest he deserves the benefit of any doubt: Forest is the poetic, ambiguous, rewarding debut of an ambitious artist whose chosen medium happens to be cinema.

14th March, 2003
(seen on video, 12th March 2003)

*cast : Rita Braun, Barbara Csonka, Edit Lipscei, Katalin Meszaros, Ilka Sos, Barbara Thurzo, Katalin Voros, Gabor Diossi, Balint Kenyeres, Peter Felix Matyassi, Peter Pfenig, Lajos Szakacs, Marton Tamas, Dusan Vitanovics, Laszlo Ziffer, Juli Szephelyi, Fanni Szoljer.

for more information on Forest, contact production company Inforg:

by Neil Young