There is nothing happy, little new and almost no life in Arpad Bogdan's debut feature Happy New Life. A moody piece shot mostly in saturated colours, with sporadic flashbacks in lighter tones, it showcases a distinct visual talent, a strong tendency for use of metaphors and little narrative sense.
Bogdan's main character (Lajos Orsos) is obsessed with discovering his origins: whatever he does find proves irrelevant to him. But his despair is so difficult to communicate that audiences may remain indifferent to him and his problems.
More concerned with the film's shape than its contents, Bogdan is a talent to watch - Happy New Life won best first feature at Hungarian Film Week - but his debut is unlikely to travel beyond festivals (it also played at Berlin).
Attila (Orsos), a young Roma man raised in a foster home, is trying to find out what happened during his childhood and why he was removed from his parents' care.
The former director of the foster-home breaks the rules and hands Attila his personal record. We then see Attila stealing cars with his cronies and walking around town depressed, frustrated and dissatisfied.
He tells a little girl a story before she goes to sleep in a scene that briefly promises he will break out of his shell. But ultimately he can only resort to metaphoric fantasies, like the galloping white horse he sees while riding a tram that symbolises freedom.
Living in a one-room tenement, Atilla fills up the bath, adopts the foetal position underwater, then flashes back to the same identical scene in his childhood.
In these the authorities brutally arrest his father and his mother urges Atilla to escape their caravan, but he is caught by a policeman and taken away.
Shot mostly at night, with a keen eye for framing and gift for atmosphere sustained by a gloomy winter landscape, with only brief blotches of life - the sun, the green of fields - in flashbacks. But these are then taken over by the brutal sound of barking dogs chasing a despondent little boy through the woods.
This is practically all Atilla can remember of his childhood; his personal file provides no additional insights, and without a past there can be no future.
Photography deserves most credit, maintaining a sustained look throughout and valiantly assisting the intentionally barren sets.
Beyond the disconsolate expression of the main character there is little acting; this is very much a director's showcase.