Friday, July 3, 2015

Sweet Emma, Dear Böbe

Édes Emma, drága Böbe - vázlatok, aktok; drama, Hungary, 1992; D: István Szabó, S: Johanna ter Steege, Enikö Börscök, Peter Andorai, Eva Kerekes

Budapest. After the fall of the Bolshevik Totalitarianism, the Russian language is not forcefully imposed on schools anymore. However, two Russian language teachers, Emma and Böbe, are thus now faced with being a burden to the school and have to re-orient by teaching English. Emma has an affair with principal Stefanics, but he is unwilling to leave his wife and family for her. Faced with money shortage, Emma and Böbe try meeting rich foreigners to leave the country, or auditioning for a film featuring nude extras. When the principal finds out that Böbe earned money as a part-time prostitute, he fires her, and Emma leaves with her. Faced with humiliation and changes in the society, Böbe commits suicide by jumping off a window.

For his first film after the end of the Cold War and Totalitarianism in Europe, director Istvan Szabo chose a rather contemporary topic of two teachers who are faced with problems in adapting to the changes in society since Russian language is not taught in schools anymore. The result, "Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe", was a rather Szabo 'light' since its scarce storyline, consisting out of grey moments or empty walk, is burdened with too much symbolism, though it did offer food for thought in the theme that whenever something changes in society, even for the better, there will always be people who will find themselves in a worse situation. The most is achieved when the film is "twitched" out of its grey existence, for example in the highly unusual and surreal dream sequence of Emma sliding down a dune naked at night, or the untypically, almost sneaky funny sequence where she reports a sex maniac whom she meet on the street to a police officer, but he seems to be almost turned on by her details ("His penis was visible." - "But you said he was dressed?" - "He was unzipped." - "And did he ask to touch it?" - "No. He ordered me to take my pants off." - "And did you...?"). The main actress, Johanna ter Steege, delivers a fine performance as the hapless heroine, plagued by financial and love troubles, yet she deserved a richer script than this one, which meanders too often and is not always right to the point despite its ambitious approach.


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