Twilight [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Run
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (15th August 2023).
The Film

Bronze Leopard: Miklós Gurbán (winner) and Golden Leopard: György Fehér (nominated) - Locarno International Film Festival, 1990

Just days away from retirement, a chief detective (Werckmeister Harmonies' Péter Haumann) is sent to a remote mountainous village where eight-year-old Anna has been found murdered at the base of a cross. The killing bears similarities to earlier killings of children in the north. The villagers suspect a local peddler (The Man from London's Gyula Pauer) who has a record for an incident with a fourteen-year-old girl in his past; however, the detective learns one of the girl's classmates that Anna met a "giant" at the base of the cross every day and that he gave her "hedgehogs." The detective happens upon one of Anna's drawings depicting a tall man in a black coat, an ibex, and a distinctive car, leading him to suspect that the killer is someone not from the area. One of the junior detectives (The Turin Horse's János Derzsi) leaves the force in order to pursue his own investigation, setting up at a local gas station with a single mother (The Whiskey Bandit's Judit Pogány) and her daughter (Erzsébet Nagy) who he hopes to use as bait for the killer. Both men have part of the solution and each will follow their leads obsessively to the bitter end.

The theatrical feature debut and penultimate film of György Fehér, "best" known internationally despite three decades in prestigious television and stage projects as a colleague of Béla Tarr and producer on Tarr's Sátántangó as well as providing additional dialogue on Werckmeister Harmonies and serving as a consultant on Almanac of Fall; Tarr, in turn, served as consultant on Twilight and co-writer of Fehér's second and final film: the James M. Cain "The Postman Always Rings Twice" adaptation Szenvedély (or "Passion"). Twilight is a very loose adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's novel "The Pledge: Requiem for a Detective Novel" which was itself a "response" to the compromised adaptation of the same scenario as as his screenplay for the 1958 Swiss/German/Italian thriller It Happened in Broad Daylight (for which the producers demanded a more conventional resolution). The novel returned to the more despairing ending and was more faithfully adapted a decade later by Sean Penn as The Pledge (which has been rumored to be the reason Fehér's film is not better known in the West despite the difficulty until now of seeing it even in its native Hungary apart from rare repertory screenings). While Penn's more conventional adaptation focuses on the dramatic "action" of the story, the pledge here happens off-screen and the younger partner vanishes into the film only to appear with his plan already in action and then again towards the end chillingly seeming to adopt the behavior of the killer in order to "seduce" information out of his next potential victim who is indeed the bait he has set. The bulk of the film instead follows the elder detective's attempts to impose order in chaos, suspecting rightly that the peddler is not the killer in spite of him selling razors and chocolate (but not "hedgehogs"), but seeming to be annoyed with the suspect's susceptibility to circumstantial evidence as much as the local constabulary's inability or unwillingness to quel the villagers' desire to scapegoat him all as hindrances to the smooth running of his investigation. He similarly regards the younger detective's civilian investigation as a hindrance, with the younger man's own growing madness and his own preventing either of them from sharing information that makes sense of the most beguiling clues.

While the film has some visual echoes of Tarr and shares some of the same cast and crew members – as much due to the close circle of collaborators as it is the small scope of Hungarian industry people not at the time working principally on tax break productions for foreign producers like Cannon Films – there are also vague vibes of Lars Van Trier's The Element of Crime in its retro "visualization" of expressionist noir and Werner Herzog's Nosferatu in the shots of fog-shrouded mountains to the Gregorian folk tune "Zinzkaro" from the Herzog film (but here filtered through its adaptation and new recording by Kate Bush for the song "Hello Earth"). The same sampling wafts in and out of a more indistinct distorted soundtrack several times over the course of the film suggesting an infernal circle while cinematographer Miklós Gurbán shoots in a monochrome of infrequent blacks and whites in favor of diluted grays that make the setting as indistinct as the crisp and uncomfortably close close-ups of the subjects of both men's interrogations; the reactions of which – bemused or amused in spite of the seriousness of the situations – are just as telling about the film's position on authority as the mob of villagers. Just as the peddler ultimately feels he is in a hopeless position within the investigation, it sort of makes sense that the potential victim would have more trust (and faith) in a "wizard of the woods" than a father figure who uses her mother (and herself) or a detective who demands information out of her and becomes physically abusive when he does not get it. While the film never condescends to the notion of a detective discovering in his pursuit that he is also the culprit, it could be said that both detectives here may not ultimately be in pursuit of themselves but are forced to look at themselves in their failure for their parts in the, the killer in the end seems to have gotten away eluding pursuit for a different reason without any acknowledgment or knowledge that either obsessed man has been hunting him. At this point, the film can do nothing more than reprise the Gregorian folk tune and tilt the camera back up into the misty mountains.


Only released to a handful of territories outside of Hungary – and soon withdrawn for reasons that are still unclear – Twilight has been infrequently shown in Hungarian repertory screenings and seen in the West solely through poor-quality TV recording bootlegs until Second Run's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray from an "HD transfer of the new 4K restoration of the film by the Hungarian Film Institute". The image is absolutely spotless but never slick by design, unfolding mostly in grays and diluted blacks and whites – the film was shot on multiple monochrome film stocks provided by Hungary's Magyar television network that were untested and manipulated in the lab into a form of visual consistency – in which the viewer alternates between gazing deep into the darkness of the image or letting the moving camera do the work in directing the eye. It no doubt blows the TV recordings out of the water but fans of Béla Tarr probably know best what to expect of the image.


The sole audio option is a 24-bit Hungarian LPCM 2.0 mono track that is free of any age-related defects. Voices are intelligible but sometimes manipulated in the mix to jolt the viewer – like the cry of the opening victim's mother – or trail off into nothing as in the "pledge". Sound design is sparse overall, restricted to a few cars, footsteps trekking through the forests, and weather while the score and source music seem to emerge from that haze. Optional English subtitles are included.


With the enigmatic Fehér no longer with us and Tarr still busily at work, Second Run has provided us with interviews from two of his closest collaborators. Editor Mária Czeilk (30:49) recalls working for television news and that film work always took a back seat to news stories; which is why it was just as well that Fehér preferred to edit at night after hours. She recalls that he did not provide her with scripts and discouraged her from visiting the set, preferring to sit behind her in the editing room and watching different arrangements of scenes she provided rather than giving specific directions (sometimes meaning that she had to splice back in discarded frames to go back to a different cut of a scene). She also recalls that Tarr visited during the editing and that some of Fehér's decisions might have resulted from the pair of them going through the footage while she was not present. She also recalls working with Tarr and how he overrode the chief editor who preferred film school-educated editors over television editors and tried to assign someone other than her despite Tarr's request.

Cinematographer Miklós Gurbán (34:37) recalls that the first time he met Fehér, the man approached him and just said "Let's shoot." He reveals that he replaced János Kende (Red Psalm) on the film and that the one scene they kept shot by Kende was photographed in a more conventional monochrome noir style, requiring them to "deteriorate" the shot in the lab to match the style the pair developed. He is no more able than Czeilk to crack the enimga of Fehér, speaking warmly but generally of him, noting that Fehér had things worked out in his head but conveyed ideas to him indirectly. He does note that there was no testing of the different film stocks, and that the priority was blocking a shot on location and then rehearsing the actors but giving them a degree of freedom within the constraints of the long take camerawork.

The disc also includes a quartet of appreciations of varying degrees of stimulation and informational value. The Quay Brothers (21:34) ultimately reveal more about their collaborative relationship in their overlapping discussion of their discovery and obsession with the film from the bootlegs to the new transfer, including their analysis of the story, Fehér's style, and the "Spotify game" the pair play in attempting to discover obscure music cues used in films including this one.

Filmmaker Peter Strickland (13:56) recalls living in Hungary for a period, reminisces over the way details of the film's environments gel with his memories, and reveals that the child-killing story of the film is not his "type" while delving into Fehér and the atmosphere he created in the film.

Critic James Norton (3:37) succinctly describes Fehér and Tarr working under Miklós Jancsó in their early days, the film's treatment of religion and state, and likens the "atmosphere of creeping dread" to the earlier Hungarian film Current (included in Second Run's set Hungarian Masters: Three films by Zoltán Fábri, István Gaál and Miklós Jancsó).

Critic Chris Fujiwara (18:03) provides the most conventional and informative coverage of the source novel, Fehér's career (including his television work), and a satisfying analysis of the film and its themes, as well as pointing out that the film is set in the forties (which completely went over my head as I thought the film was deliberately timeless and could just as easily have been set in the period of the film's production since the killer's automobile was described as being older and therefore would stand out).

The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (2:07).


Housed with the disc is a booklet featuring an expansive new essay by filmmaker and curator Stanley Schtinter who provides some tantalizing details about Fehér's hard to see television work – including a minimalist Shakespeare adaptation with Haumann – the origins of the source novel and how the film departs from it, as well as his own attempt to track down actress Erzsébet Nagy (paralleling the fruitless investigation with that of the film).


The theatrical feature debut and penultimate film of György Fehér, Twilight as a film rescued from the video haze of bootleg purgatory and as an idiosyncratic adaptation of a "requiem for a detective novel" should go some ways towards establishing to wide audiences the seasoned theater and television director as more than just a colleague of the better-known Béla Tarr.


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