"Magic Hunter" is an unabashed art film. Its tradition - by which
I do not mean influences - is via Dadaism, Federico Fellini, Alain Resnais,
and perhaps most importantly - since it is a very, very Hungarian work of
cinema - Istvan Szabo. It is a poetic work of symbolism, history, religion,
myth and music.
Its origins are in a legend about the devil giving a woodsman seven magic
arrows - all of which are guaranteed to hit the targets desired by the woodsman.
Unbeknownst to the hunter, the devil has reserved the seventh for himself
- for his hit. This legend is the basic story of a very beautiful opera,
"Der Freischutz" by Carl Maria von Weber - but the director has
wisely kept the opera at a distance. We hear it, and if you know German,
you'll understand the narration derived from it. But all we see of opera,
thank god, is our main characters watching it toward the end.
Our modern 20th century hunter is part of the protection police in Hungary,
and Gary Kemp has the sharp good looks of a young Clint Eastwood. He's a
good action hero, but more important, he conveys a sense of unease in doing
his job that creates an interesting tension. A remarkable scene occurs when
he confronts his rival for his wife's affections and, after an explanation
of what he is up to, departs with his rival. The wife watches the men descend
the baroque staircase - all of them doing their duty.
Our point of departure is a police precinct in Budapest where Max is sent
out to target practice, and there, a devious colleague named Kaspar offers
him three bullets guaranteed to hit the target. They do, and Max is indebted
to this diabolical dude. Max is assigned to protect a chess master, Maxim,
who has been suffering threats to his safety, and Max requests some more
of those nifty bullets from Kaspar.
Max follows Maxim, only to watch him meet and fall in love with Max's beautiful
wife, Eva. With continental courtesy, he courts Eva and befriends Max's
child Lili, brilliantly played by the distrustful, young Alexandra Wasscher.
These episodes are particularly poignant, as we sense the loneliness of
a master chess player and a housewife as their flirtation blossoms on a
Inter-cut with all this modernity is a medieval story that seems completely
random. The devil has put a curse on a bridge, which can be undone only
by the first soul to cross it - which turns out to be a snail - to the rather
annoyance of a rather comical devil. The lesson embedded here is that purity
of heart is the only thing that can stop the devil. And unfortunately, purity
of heart is not taken seriously by humankind.
The two stories converge in a painting of the Virgin Mary, who protects
the innocent and when necessary comes to life out of the painting. Without
giving away the ending - which is a taboo in film reviewing - let it be
said that the Virgin makes a leap into the present and, with the audience
cheering her on like a marathon runner in the last mile, she finds just
the right persona to foil the seventh bullet.
This is the kind of art film that justified David Bowie's production company
getting involved to complete it, and their faith is fully justified. It's
a charmingly told tale and beautifully acted film. Even though the actors
delivered their original lines in their native tongues - English, Russian,
German, Hungarian, etc. - the film was later dubbed into Hungarian in order
to give it a unity. What becomes apparent is that actors act better in their
native tongues, and it should be up to the director to block scenes in such
a way as to allow for dubbing rather than to insist on actors speaking languages
so uncomfortable as to interfere with the more important task of acting.
If you like art, you'll like this film's confidence in itself as work of
art, a work of cinema and, most important, another one of life's small miracles.