Nine years ago, the first feature film, Viharsarok, by Dam Čáczy, premiered, and its gay teenage protagonists also belong to an underrepresented minority in Hungarian cinema. The foundations for his next film were laid in the same year, when the band Tudás Hatalom founded by Christoph Horvat “Színész Bob” directed him. Video, in which young gypsies draw attention to the problem of early school leaving by rapping. The members of the Talent Nurturing Workshop are Francisca Farkas, Romeo Babai, Christopher Bacic, Edmund Ulah and Norbert Varga, who together with Christophe Horvat, drawing on their experiences and perspectives, wrote and presented the show Gypsy Magyar in 2018 – also directed by Császi.
Cigány Magyar was also invited to the Deutsches Theater Berlin in 2020, and this served as the inspiration for the film adaptation of the play, while retaining the original cast, whose screenplay was written by Császi with Balázs Lengyel, director of Lajkó – Gypsy in Space. The 3,000th play combines the philosophical, provocative, and surreal elements of the original performance with the story of a group of Roma preparing to perform at a German theater festival. Christoph Horvath stars as the play’s director in the film, who uses human misery for his own artistic ascension and creates self-confidence as a cynical and frightening epitome. Referring to the original way of acting, he conveys a real gypsy house from Hungary. Poor Row on the Berlin Stage, in Three Thousand Pieces. The director, who likes the image of a socially sensitive artist and exploits the tragedy of the troupe members, gradually becomes clear that he behaves in the same oppressive manner towards the gypsies as the majority society he criticizes, and thinks according to stereotypes that are no less harmful.
Three thousand numbered plays are bound to earn the title “the film of Hungarian Ruben Östlund,” as it shows many similarities to Swedish directors in terms of subject matter, direction, structure, and humour, particularly the Palme d’Or winner The Palme d’Or. Square. From the outset, the medium, the elitist world of Western fine art, is the same—Swedish contemporary art in the square, German experimental theater in the Three Thousand Plays, plus themes of formulated criticism: this much more liberals think they are acceptable, fraudulent progressivism and Western affluence bend instead of vocal racists who are much easier targets. The structure of the two films is also similar, loosely woven narratives linked by absurd schemes that call attention to a kind of social hypocrisy, and in some cases rise completely above the ground of reality.
The numbered piece Háromezer is full of biting, sarcastic situations that evoke Östlund’s sense of humor. Among the best is a conversation between a German theater director and a Hungarian director over a hotel breakfast buffet, who compete to see who gets to work with the less fortunate actors: gypsies from a violent past stand no chance against the Ugandan trans kid. Soldiers who also perform at the festival. But there are German extras posing as hotel employees who get paid to make the gypsy actors stay there happy by being served by the whites instead of the Muslim immigrants who actually work at the hotel. So are the fiercely self-proclaimed international journalists who can’t even breathe in indignation when an actor neuteres them after their invasive questions.
While such satirical scenes can work great, the overall picture is much more confusing. Császi’s film cannot shed its alternative theatrical origins: the troupe’s story itself practically serves as a pretext for the juxtaposition of the diverse ideas, situations and problems arising in the Roma cause. Sequences that loosely tie into the main stream of the plot or are removed entirely from it feature elements common in alternative theater and staggering from feature films: the actors often break the fourth wall to address the viewer directly by looking into the camera, but there are also musical interludes and dreamlike flashbacks.
Although the regular outward speaking and episodic structure are somewhat disconnected, the film’s appeal is strengthened by cinematographer István Balázs Balázs’s innovative photography. The camera evokes Rév Marcell’s signature style with unrealistic movements, iconic scene-changing transitions, and striking compositions, but just as in the case of Rév’s Eufória, the question arises whether there is sufficiently deep and mature content behind the compelling images. The piece numbered three thousand raises dozens of questions, but the most difficult to answer is what exactly is the point of the film.
When there is so little gypsy representation, it is not surprising that the film, which aims to start a discourse, wants to talk about everything. After all, if the opportunity is finally here to talk about the gypsy image of the Hungarians and the gypsy self-image, then we must make full use of this opportunity, right? The Three Thousand Number Plays have it all, from outreach to citizen satire: half-serious, half-joke dilemmas arise as to whether someone wants to be born straight Roman so they can use their precarious situation as an excuse forever. There are a lot of topics raised and half-thoughts, which Csásís has no intention of offering a solution to, but that ultimately makes the movie about everything somewhat pointless.
“Are you sorry? So you’re a good person,” Francisca Farkas says to the camera, the key phrase also appears on the movie poster, which also clearly defines who this movie is about. For those who do not think of Roma as open racism, they themselves consider acceptance important, but use the misery of others in an art form to experience catharsis and a sense of empathy. They may feel a little ashamed of what they saw, but the film, which criticizes works that exploit the theme of Rome, has only scratched the surface. We don’t get a deeper insight into the situation of the Hungarian gypsies, nor into the lives of the Roma characters: only the director’s non-Gypsy figure appears, the troupe members don’t feel like real characters, only aphorisms, bearers of well-known problems.
With its stylized narrative and complex search for identity, this film appears to be a response to many past representations that do not exist in reality. It’s as if Donald Glover’s Atlanta series, which examines the situation of black Americans in a groundbreaking way and more than once, arrived undetected by several decades of cinematic representation of blacks and the American anti-racism movements it reflects. . The basic premise of Háromezer’s numbered piece is that everyone understands that Roma crime does not stem from skin color, but from social status, and integration cannot be achieved because Hungarian society treats Roma as dangerous and inferior since childhood. Although the domestic viewer has only encountered such an approach to racism in Hollywood films about black Americans.
It is difficult to portray the white guilt of the Hungarian man as if this guilt does not exist on a social level.
About three thousand paces separate the picture of Rome in Monica’s performance from the play Three Thousand Numbers, not that the situation of the gypsies isn’t already defined in Hungarian feature films – about Brazilians, which deals with gypsy murders in a strong auteur style, for Brazilians, which It presents Rome’s Life as an audience-friendly comedy, to the positive side of Larry featuring Roma’s characters – but even so, the foundations on which Császi’s film wants to build are still sorely lacking. Unfortunately, given the current trend in Hungarian film financing, there’s little chance these staples will be ready anytime soon.
Háromezer is a fascinating experiment in its detail, with an overall chaotic effect, that works better as a response to the misrepresentation of others than a true charade, but with its ambitious approach it is certainly a landmark in galactic cinematography – and it would be great if it didn’t remain the only attempt.
The numbered play Háromezer can be seen in Hungarian cinemas from April 6th.
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