DVD/Blu Ray

Twilight (15)|Home Ents Review

Dir. György Fehér, Hungary, 1990, 101 mins, Hungarian with subtitles

Cast: Péter Haumann, János Derzsi, Kati Lázár, Erzsébet Nagy, Mónika Varga

Review by Colin Dibben

If you are looking for prolonged, dank immersion in the darker regions of the human soul, this superb and disturbing lost classic from the second Golden Age of Hungarian cinema is just the ticket.

Two detectives investigate a series of child murders in the Carpathian Mountains. After the most recent murder, the younger detective promises the mother of the victim that he will find the killer, even if it takes him the rest of his life.

Closely watched by his senior colleague, he embarks on an abusive relationship with a woman who runs a dreary roadside gas station, using her young daughter as bait for the killer.

If the story sounds familiar, it is probably because Twilight has the same source material as Sean Penn’s 2001 movie The Pledge: Friedrich Durrenmatt’s 1958 novella.

Actor-director Fehér’s take on the tale is pretty unique, the exceptional influence being Bela Tarr, who acted as a consultant on Twilight. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Tarr’s involvement, the film is a series of – 40 – long shots in which the camera moves pretty slowly, sometimes away from the narrative centre of attention. For example, at the moment of the pledge, the camera moves from a domestic interior to the vigilant older detective outside and then down a hill.

Strangely, the film doesn’t feel long at all, it is just that the camera fills in the gaps left by minimal dialogue and a general lack of action, with these long shots luxuriating in the lugubrious surroundings and perhaps saying something essential about the taciturn detectives.

Action in the frame often looks more goal oriented than in Tarr. Not that this is any kind of relief. At times, the camera’s perspective takes on a threatening aspect, just as the detectives’ vigilance sometimes looks disturbingly like the stalking of a child by a child killer. For, at several points, the silhouette of an overcoat clad and hatted cop looms in the foreground, watching as a little girl approaches.

There are 3 interviews with children, all filmed with the child’s face in close up, shot over the blurred shoulder of the cop. These scenes are disquieting to watch too – and not just because one of them ends in the child being violently shaken. The child’s face is in each case ambiguous: wary, open, pleased, disconcerted. And the cop’s questions are importuning, grooming. It may be good police procedure, based on child psychology, but the moral certitude that anchors the questioning to positive forces of law and order has completely disappeared.

Perhaps this is one of the twilights the title refers to. Another would be the extreme misty, flat, soft grey look of the film. In fact, there is only one scene in which light reflects sharply off objects – and that is when the child is being shaken. This is a 4K restoration but my cheapish smart tv struggled with the grey soup, especially in some of the underlit scenes. (Oddly enough, turning the picture sharpness down seemed to help.)

Cinematographer Miklós Gurbán, who supervised the restoration, gives a guarded and rather uninformative interview as an extra. There is also an interesting range of filmed appreciations, including from the Quay Brothers, Peter Strickland and Chris Fujiwara.

Twilight is out from Second Run on Blu-ray as of 12 June 2023.