The 2018 European Union Film Festival is back at the Gene Siskel Film Center, from March 9th to April 5th.
Roland Vranik’s The Citizen (Az Állampolgár) (Hungary, 2016) presents a quite powerful, unsentimental episode in the life of Wilson Ugabe (Cake-Baly Marcelo), a middle-aged West African refugee whose family was destroyed in civil conflict there a few years past. He’s building a new life in Budapest, having learned the language, acquired a decent job (as a greeter and security man at a supermarket) and found a safe place to live. But Wilson has a complication – an old girlfriend of a former roommate arrives on his doorstep pregnant, looking for Dad. Shirin (Arghavan Shekari), a refugee herself (from Iran), has a baby due, nowhere to stay and a warrant out for her deportation. Wilson, familiar with, and supportive of, her predicament, chooses to take them in. Meanwhile, Wilson is having trouble passing his citizenship test, so his employer Éva (Tünde Szalontay) introduces him to her sister, Mari (Ágnes Máhr), who gives private lessons to both kids and adults. Wilson is not only a diligent pupil for Mari, but an ever-closer friend, then lover, and her own dead-end marriage comes to an awkward but deserving end. When Mari arrives to live with Wilson, the additional roommates are an unpleasant but (hopefully) manageable surprise.
I don’t mean to suggest the film is without humor – both Wilson and Mari are smart, friendly people, well-surveyed by these two fine actors, and watching their courtship develop is warm and fun. But the situation darkens, and all three of our characters fall victim to some of their own bad decisions. Vranik’s script, co-written with Iván Szabó, steers away from the fevered melodrama that these stories can sometimes fall into, and presents the characters as straightforward products of their own hard experiences, for better and worse. Imre Juhasz does the film justice visually as well – a regular cinematographer in Hungary, he’s been getting increasing amounts of camera crew and second-unit work here in the U.S., and he’ll work his talented way up quickly.
I liked this movie a lot – it’s no ray of sunshine, but it’s a really good, wordly-wise short-story film that rings rewardingly true.
“The Citizen” will be shown on Friday, March 30th at 8:00 pm and Tuesday, April 3rd at 6:00 pm.