We Never Die

Robert Koltai's Hungaria "We Never Die" is a cheerful, scruffy picaresque of a randy coat-hanger salesman who's also a gambler and whoremonger, a man who seems to know every drunk and street sweeper in Hungary. The '60s period story is a reminiscence by his nephew, who fondly recalls the adventures he had with his "Uncle Juicy" (played by Koltai himself). Juicy is an unstoppable powerhouse, with Koltai's verve as a performer barreling through the "Auntie Mame"-force-of-the-universe quality of its horny, unshaven uncle. There are also moments of giddy invention - who would guess Uncle Juicy would be charming enough to flag down an airplane for a quick hitch-hike to the racetrack? A strong first feature.

(New City, apr. 14. 1994.)


'We Never Die' is a juicy chunk of Hungarian life in '60s

Hungarian actor-writer-director Róbert Koltai is the kind of boisterous, big-hearted, expansive performer - alert to life's foibles and craziness - that audiences of any nationality usually fall for. And in "we Never Die" Koltai, basing his movie on his own youthful misadventures in the '60s, has given himself in a perfect showcase.
In this warm, comic, rowdy and tender nostalgia piece - the biggest, locally made box office hit in Hungarian movie history - Koltai plays Uncle Gyuszi (or "Juicy"), a small-time salesman who sells his own wooden clothes hangers from town to town, and who takes his nephew Imi (Mihály Szabados) along for the ride.
Imi, of course, is based on Koltai himself as a young man. Uncle Gyuszi is drawn from his own wild and wooly uncle, a memorable scapegrace who was a self-employed wooden hanger peddler in the Hungarian provinces, addicted to womanizing, gambling and harness-racing.
Gyuszi - like all those youthful "bad influences" we never really fall out of love with - is a sinner. But he's an exuberant one, full of love for the women he chases, the booze he guzzles, and the trotters who can never seem to win, place or show for him. He's a capitalist wannabe trapped in a Marxist society, and perhaps because of that, he's not venal or corrupt. He knows he's not going anywhere, that the cops and officials he bribes and who occasionally beat him or run him out of town, have him under such a yoke, that the only thing is left is to enjoy the trip.
In "We Never Die", Gyuszi promises his nephew - recalling the whole episode years later in a flashback - an odyssey of "grub, booze and women".
Of course, they get less - and more - than they bargained for. Although Gyuszi's schetnes and dreams keep going astray, he keeps bounding back. And what keeps bring him from beeing obnoxlous or irritating is the way Koltai manages to convey an immense vulnerability and sweetness under the swagger and braggadocio. As one of Hungary's leading stage actors (and cabaret comedy performers), Koltai's major roles included another famous peddler - Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" - and he's alive to the story's poignancy as much as its ribaldry.
As full raunchy humor as it is of unabashed sentiment, the movie includes one character - a booksellers randy wife named Betty Lou (Kathleen Gati) - whose sole function seems to be to drag the shocked but delighted Imi off to bed as soon as possible. But like Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman and Walter Huston, Koltai can give you the juices of life without poisons. He dominates the screen without bulldozing it, displaying all of Gyuszi's flaws without relaxing his grip on our affections.
The movie also gives us an unexpected but interesting look at Hungary under Communism. It's a Hungary we don't neccessaily see in movies of Istvan Szabo, Miklos Jancso or Peter Gothar. Koltai seems less intent on raking over the past, than in recalling what amused or moved him; he shows us a country bumbling along in a bureucratic vise, with its somewhat free spirits dancing clumsily on the edges.

(Chicago Tribune, apr. 13. 1994.)


'We Never Die': A Sunny, High-Spirited Journey

Robert Koltai's blithely nostalgic and sentimental "We Never Die" has such high spirits it's no wonder it was such a box-office hit in Hungary. It has the warmth humor of the Jiri Menzel films but hasn't as much of their subtlety and acute social observation. It travels well anyway but is best regarded as a minor, though certainly endearing, effort.
An established cabaret.performer and stage actor, Koltai, at 49, makes his screen debut as the film's star, director and co-writer in this largery autobiographical tale. He casts himself as the grizzled stocky Gyuszi Tordai, a free-spirited itinerant wooden hanger salesman, who, as a birthday present, takes his gangly 17-years-old nephew Imi (Mihály Szabados) along with him on his travels one summer in the early '60s. Imi's parents have good reason to feel a certain apprehension in leaving their son with Gyuszi, who once they are out of sight, promises the kid "Grub, booze and women". Gyuszi also plays the horses - heavily.
Gyuszi is, in short, one of those indefatigable life-force types like auntie Mame or Zorba the Greek. Wherever there are people around he must show off in some way and become the center of attention. Bombastic guys like Gyuszi can become boring and tiresome very rapidly, and it is Koltai's key accomplishment that he prevents this from happening. He dares to give the man some quiet moments. Gyuszi may be loud, but he is not a fool, although he may play one if it suits his purpose, and he genuinely cares for women, wich is no doubt why he's so successful with them despite his seedly appereance and crude manner.
Koltai shrewdliy gives his story a bittersweet spin, and allows Gyuszi a really nasty run-in with some cops to remind us that we are after all in a Communist country. On the whole, however, " We Never Die" (Times-rated Mature for some sex, nudity) Is a sunny journey into a simpler past, into rural, small-town areas where everybody and everything is shabby and poor but where people seem capable of enjoying life and one another.

(Los Angeles Times, Okt. 22. 1993.)