Twilight (Directed by Gyorgy Feher) 1990
Second Run Blu Ray – 2023
“I want to show to what extent the search for justice stands in ridiculous contrast to the eternity of nature. Meanwhile it is precisely this search that I am fascinated by”
Images of uncompromising nature, in the form of the forests, mountains and plains, surrounding the ex-mining village Ronabanya in northern Hungary, begin and end the extraordinary Twilight. An aerial shot slowly moving over a grey misty terrain is accompanied by a Georgian choir singing a folk song; behind this is a brooding orchestral line that, for me, appears to imitate the opening chords of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle. The music was mixed by sound designer Lalo Vidovsky and plays a crucial role in the film, acting as commentator – the voice of a supremely indifferent nature or even Greek chorus for the tragic events that have disturbed this bleak remote region. Landscape and music become a character observing the police’s efforts at detection: ruminating on their futile attempt to maintain peace and order.
A nine year old girl has been murdered. She was attacked by a man with a razor. There have now been three child killings. The local detective K (Janos Derzsi) asks for help from a retired chief detective (Paul Haumann). Conflict occurs over police methods and who is really in control of the case. Yet this cliché of police power is radically absented for Twilight constantly shifts its focus from the solving of a crime to embrace a surging metaphysical force. Twilight is an anti-detection film. There are no solutions, the killer is never found and both detectives are pushed to frustration and near hysteria as the circumstances of their investigation create an unsettling critique of the police’s power and authority.
Twilight is based on Friedrich Durrenmatt’s novel The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel. Durrenmatt wrote it as a corrective to the changes, in particular the ending, made by the producers to his screenplay for the 1958 film It Happened in Broad Daylight directed by Ladislao Vajda. And in 2001 Sean Penn’s version The Pledge appeared starring Jack Nicholson. Although Durrenmatt declined director Gyorgy Feher’s invitation to be a consultant on Twilight it’s this film that most respects the indeterminacy and moral chaos of the book: describing itself as based on themes in the novel. Bela Tarr is credited as a consultant. And I suspect that what the film remained faithful to was the Durrenmatt’s haunting ambiguity.
There are times, because of how Feher places his camera, around, to the side, or at the back of people that characters appear to be two sides of the same talking person. Detective jnr. and senior appear so. And even when questioning children, as to whether they saw the killer, the detectives enact, not quite as intended role play, but with disturbing empathy, both the seductive charm and anger of the murderer. There’s a chilling and brilliantly shot scene where the country policeman offers a piece of chocolate right up to the eagerly opened mouth of a young girl being questioned about her murdered schoolmate. Did she see the dark man from the woods he asks? Like the one in the victim’s drawing? The man with the hedgehog. It’s then we see a close shot of a round chocolate truffle with a spiky edge resembling a hedgehog’s body. A similar truffle is later found, by the senior detective, in what might be the killer’s smashed up and abandoned car. It’s never made clear, just someone, who being pursued was desperate to flee the wreckage. And if it was the killer he appears to have vanished. Such is the mysterious power of Twilight that even though we have a palpable killing, though never shown on screen, we are made to doubt there was a killer. Perhaps it was the mythic dark personage / force of the woods that did it and then drove the detectives a bit crazy? Physical and metaphysical crimes erupt in this twilight land to make you think of Dostoevsky.
Twilight is a black and white film magnificently photographed by Miklos Gurban.
Or I should really say a grey and white film: its grey palette being perfectly in tune with the film’s atmosphere of uncertainty. Things move at a very slow pace without causing any strain on the actors or the audience. This is a film comprised of a few long-held shots (apparently only 56) wonderfully framed, within frames, tight compositions of cinematic beauty and great depth. Twilight is an astonishing achievement, superbly acted and directed. A self-contained, enigmatic crime drama determined to be insoluble whilst remaining profoundly satisfying. A mesmeric masterpiece of Hungarian cinema.