Now You See Me, Now You Don’t (2004) – By David Stephenson

 I was quite pleased when this short film arrived through my letter box. It’s not often that Hungarian cinema gets a chance in the limelight; normally it resides in the deep and murky shadows of the European heavyweights France, Italy and the UK. Because of this I was excited to see the latest offering from director Attila Szasz, who is more known for work in commercial cinema.

Now You See Me… is a short film about a couple who’s fragmented relationship is pushed up to and beyond its limits when the father, played here by Erno Fekete, comes home from The Lab after a prolonged absence. It’s never a good sign when Daddy brings his work home with him, especially when Daddy’s a secret scientist type working on a compound that renders people invisible. It’s when their little kid starts going missing, running about the house literally unseen that the bad things start to happen. Perhaps Daddy’s been up to no good?

Without spoiling this, I can’t really divulge the plot details much further, other than to say that the piece focuses on the emotional journey of the strained couple, the troubles of which have literally made their child invisible. The idea behind the piece is either brilliantly simple or simply brilliant. Or just simple. I can’t decide. This is either a psychological character study exploring the impact of disappearance, or simply a blatant metaphor played out over 30 minutes as their emotional neglect of the child literally makes him vanish away. This all leads to the inevitable twist in the plot, which at first baffled me beyond words, but upon a second viewing made me smile at its sheer ingenuity. I’ll say no more on that for fear of this becoming one overly-wordy spoiler.

And so the question is – is it any good? Yes and no.

As a short piece it’s certainly thought-provoking, having left an impact upon me which lasted for days. Almost a week later I found myself running through the events of the film in my mind, like a constant loop of re-evaluation. That is often the mark of a good film, if the audience is left hanging at the end, desperately mulling it over for the sake of closure. Any film that leaves a lasting effect should be saluted.

The acting is strong, given the cast only has three people in it. All of whom give weighty performances with plenty internal interrogation, angst and various other silent trauma that art-house cinema aficionados feast upon. The performance by Fekete as an emotionally closed, stern-faced workaholic scientist is particularly noteworthy, as he seems stripped of all loving emotion, possibly due to the constant distance and alienation from his family.

The framing of shots is beautifully done, as there are at least eight or nine occurrences in which a screenshot of what appears on screen could have been framed as a still-frame art piece. The problem is that these shots are a little too good, to the point where they become the focus of the piece rather than the characters. With this being essentially a character study, that’s a very bad thing. There’s too many pregnant pauses, too much over-shooting, too much style over substance (although I hate to use the term) in this film. While the shooting style could have been used to expertly enhance the dialogue and actions taking place before us, it instead drowns them out. The events of the film seem to take second fiddle to the lighting, set design, etc. Perhaps these are the mistakes of a relatively junior director. Perhaps these are the trappings of the commercial film game. Either way, the over-shooting only works to the detriment of the piece.

It’s still a very clever piece, with expert performances and a thought-provoking message. But even despite its 30 minute run time, it feels stilted and overly drawn out, partially due to a style that seeks beautiful shots over gripping cinema. Despite that, it still may be worth checking out for the plot twist alone. One thing’s for sure – I’m certainly going to be keeping an eye on the Hungarian film scene in future.

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