May-Day Mayhem

Rather than threating Stalin1s presence in Hungary with the expected grimness, this peculiar and jovial film reflects upon the era with hope and mirth. Directed and co-written by Robert Koltai (with Gábor Nógrádi) - and bearing the delightfully unwieldly Hungarian title Csocsó, avagy éljen május 1-je! - this is the story of a teacher and soccer coatch (Koltai) who struggles against political and emotional oppression to prepare his cheerfully communist city for their annual May Day celebration. Told in flashback from the present, and employing approximately the same tone as a Dean Jodes Disney comedy, the movie leaps about willy-nilly from gleeful propaganda rallies to vodka- and nicotine-infused debacles to "hooker-comrades", until it1s as engaging as it is bewildering. Koltai is way over the top, as is Gábor Máté as his zany comissar, but Sándor Gáspár is appropriately sweaty and egomanical as their insane lieutenant-colonel, who's swiftly losing his hottie wife Adél Kováts to a lusty football lad. The story's erratic, but the scenes range from absurd (accordion paeans to efficient workers) to zesty (a private afternoon delight invaded by stilt-walkers), definitely sustaining interest. Besides, the whole thing's about a naton looking happily forward for the first time in a long time, and it's hard not to enjoy that.

(New Times Los Angeles, jan. 24-30. 2002.)