Sunday, January 29, 2012

Szindbád (1971 movie)

Szindbád movie trailer

The page for Szindbád
My notes on The Adventures of Sindbad by Gyula Krúdy, the source for the movie (and recommended if you're unfamiliar with Krúdy's work).

How do you adapt Krúdy’s surreal, atmospheric work to the screen? The easy answer is very carefully. The more involved answer would be something like director Zoltán Huszárik’s movie. Huszárik takes an unconventional approach, befitting such an unconventional character. While much of Krúdy’s stories rely on descriptions and atmosphere, Huszárik relies on cinematic equivalents with gorgeous scenes and visual impressions.

Warning—there are many spoilers ahead, but I think they would actually help the first-time viewer. The movie opens with a montage of close-up shots, each devoid of meaning but they will connect with later scenes in the movie. Finally we are introduced to Sindbad (I’ll use the Anglicized spelling), piled into a horse-drawn carriage, the unaccompanied horse told to take him home. It turns out Sindbad is dead or dying and the viewer is treated to flashbacks of his life and conquests. Some scenes are symbolic, such as a young Sindbad participating in a spring dance with two young women (the end of the movie has a much older Sindbad with a winter fairy), although the bulk of the movie centers on Sindbad’s many loves. Huszárik continually shows close-up shots, as if to emphasize that we don’t always recognize what we see in front of us--the surreal nature of the film at times reinforcing this message. As Sindbad ages in the flashbacks, a malaise sets in as he recognizes the memories are all he has. His sensual pleasure, echoed in the aesthetic beauty of the film, provides him little sustenance. He makes no effort to hide his shortcoming and recognizes what he has lost in his triumphs. And he’s not shy in telling others about it either—in response to a lover telling of her disillusionment with him, Sindbad replies
No reproaches, please, sweetheart. You’ve put on your dark glasses again. Life is a chain of beautiful lies. There is no feeling more touching than love. At our age, when all noble feelings, like piety, devotion, respect, friendship, patriotism are slowly fading from this world, only love is capable of conjuring back the illusion of times long past. We need the tenderness of women more than ever. Because every woman, even the most common is related to the moon, to the other world, to superstition. Only women can improve us men who’ve become brutes. And they should be given the chance to carry out this improvement on men.

So how successful is Huszárik in capturing Krúdy’s creation? Many of the scenes are straight out of the book, faithful in many details. The atmosphere of the book is, for the most part, reflected on the screen. The hardest part to translate has to do with Sindbad being dead for many of his stories. Huszárik acknowledges this in the movie’s premise of Sindbad dying (or already dead) at the start of the movie, intermingling his life and dreams as the movie progresses. A restless feeling permeates Sindbad and the movie, a continual search for something that always eludes him. Probably the most successful feeling Huszárik conveys centers on the feeling of loss--something is missing, even if the characters don’t know what it is. Sindbad talks about his mother and her generation, adding what must have been plenty of then-current political messages :

They were of a different breed as to how we grew up to be. They knew how to live. In those days, you could still live. And they knew how to live well. But these people don’t know it. They don’t even know about the beauty of life. They don’t know what a good meal is, what a delight good rest can be. I don’t like these modern times. They say these are transitory times. But I didn’t ask for any transitory time nor do I remember even wanting this life either. I have never asked for favoritism. I’m not even interested in knowing what there is to be happy about being Hungarian.

The Second Run DVD edition of Szindbád comes with a booklet written by film historian Michael Brooke with information on the movie, Krúdy, and director Huszárik. My only quibble with Brooke’s excellent essay comes in his comments on Krúdy’s Sindbad: “He meets no monsters en route, merely women, a species that he reveres but has never come close to understanding (let alone conquering), an incomprehension that turns even the most potentially fulfilling encounters into something suffused with regretful melancholy.” I’ll agree with the melancholy, but it seemed to me Sindbad understood women very well (most incarnations of him, anyway) even if they did surprise him at times. Brooke also includes some online links to related features and references for anyone wanting further viewing—this edition was made for geeks like me (although some of the links no longer work). On the DVD is a 12-minute feature with director Peter Strickland, providing context in addition to his appreciation of the film.

The following restaurant scene clip in Szindbád has the most talked about imagery in the movie. It provides so much more than just images, though, but the clip does not have subtitles. During the meal, Sindbad continually asks the waiter Vendelin about his wife. No matter how many times Sindbad changes the subject (usually to comment on food), he returns to why Vendelin’s wife left. Eventually the waiter finishes his story—it turns out she left him for Sindbad. Then, as the clip hints at the end, she left Sindbad to drown herself. Huszárik ties Sindbad’s sensual longing for good food and for women together. To Sindbad, each is of a fleeting nature, to be relished and savored while you have them, then moving on to the next meal/woman. Highly recommended.

For more foreign movies, check out Caroline's World Cinema Series 2012 and Richard's monthly Foreign Film Festival round-up.


Caroline said...

This sounds wonderful and has just reminded me that I wanted to read Krúdy. I have one of his novels (called Meinerzeit in German). I could imagine it's challenging to bring his work to the screen.
Thanks for the links as well.

Richard said...

This sounds like a valiant attempt at bringing a difficult but rewarding story to the screen, Dwight. I think I need to watch the movie and read the book. Thanks again for participating in the filmfests!

Dwight said...

Thanks for the comments Caroline and Richard. It's a ... ummmm... strange film. Which, as I said, befits a strange character. It's definitely of the art-house variety of movies (whatever that means anymore), but I think it would reward multiple viewings--a theory I intend to test.