Dir/scr. Szabolcs Hajdu. Hungary, 2016. 81 min.

Karlovy Vary’s winner this year is by far the most intimately introspective picture from Hungarian writer/director Szabolcs Hajdu, who also won Best Actor for his performance in front of the camera. His real-life partner, Orsolya Torok-Illyes, and their two children, Lujza and Zsigmond, perform alongside him in a film which was set in the family’s own home, with 13 of the director’s film students shooting a film which could easily be deemed a tribute to John Cassavetes.

Hajdu prefers to opt for a sensitive, realistic approach, which may lack some of the spectacular dramatic fireworks usually associated with this type of drama

Hajdu is best known for his debut, White Palms, about a young gymnast who breaks away from his despotic coach, but It’s Only The Time Of My Life is vastly different to anything he has done before. It is based on his own stage play, which he hasn’t really opened up physically, and recounts a clash between two families who share for one day not only the same space but also their respective midlife crises.

Holding back the confrontations between his six characters, rarely allowing them to erupt into full-scale explosions, Hajdu prefers to opt for a sensitive, realistic approach, which may lack some of the spectacular dramatic fireworks usually associated with this type of drama, but is probably much closer to everyday life.

In the film’s opening sequence, Eszter (Torok-Ellyes, who starred in two of Hajdu’s earlier pictures, Bibliotheque Pascal and Mirage) and Farkas (Hajdu), are saying goodbye to their guests of the evening and are about to engage in yet another argument about the best way to treat their spoiled five year-old, Bruno (Zsigmond Hajdu) when Eszter’s older sister, Ernella (Erika Tanko), her husband Albert (Domokos Szabo) and their ten year-old daughter Laura (Lujza Hajdu) drop in uninvited. They are just back from a long stay in Scotland and are looking for temporary shelter until they find a place of their own to settle down.

Never really close in the past, the forced proximity of the couples quickly brings up all the old family feuds and jealousies between the two sisters, a latent animosity between their two husbands and their respective difficulties in dealing with their offspring.

While Eszter and Farkas seem to be comfortably off, their marriage shows distinct signs of fatigue. Ernella and Albert, on the other hand, have serious financial problems. Their attempt to relocate in the West was obviously a disaster, even if they still claim that life there is so much more civilized. Back home, adrift and bitter with each other and the world at large, they secretly hope that despite their differences, they might squeeze a sizable loan from their hosts, who seem less than enthusiastic about their presence.  

Meanwhile, the couples have their own issues. Farkas believes that Eszter’s motherhood has deprived him of her affection, while Eszter claims he is retreating into a world of his own, and their little boy constantly attempts to draw all attention onto himself. Albert suspects his wife, Ernella, of having been unfaithful, she is hostile and sour, while their daughter is desperately in need of a stable home and life, which her parents fail to provide.

Hajdu is in complete control of his character, never shying away from its less appealing features, Torok-Illyes offers a painfully sincere portrait of a married woman hurt by changes in her life that she seems unable to control, and to their credit, the rest of the cast look effortlessly natural and comfortable with their parts. The cameras, peeping around the corners, hiding behind doors and moving through the spacious flat with ease, add a dynamic dimension to the basically static play, whose origins are visible particularly through the frequent use of doors to bring characters into focus or take them out of it.

Production companies: Filmworks Ltd., FoxusFox Studios, Latokep Ensemble

International sales: Filmworks Ltd, ceo@filmworks.hu

Producers: Daniel Herner, Andras Muhl, Ferenczy Gabor, Zsofia Muhl

Cinematography: Csaba Banto, Flora Chilton, David Gajdics, Betti Hejusz, Marton Kisteleki, Akos K. Kovacs, Peter Miskolcsi, Peter Pasztor, Tamas Simon, Marlk Szalai, Gabor Szilagy, Gergely Timar, Levente Toth

Editing: Szilvia Papp

Cast: Szabolcs Hajdu, Orsolya Torok-Illyes, Erika Tanko, Dumokos Szabo, Lujza Hajdu, Zsigmond Hajdu