Twenty Hours

Twenty Hours ★★★★

This Zoltan Fabri film was made 11 years before Fabri's monumental film "The Fifth Seal" (1976). Both have a common factor. Both are based on novels written by celebrated Hungarian author Ferenc Santa. Both films explore moral choices one makes in life. In Fabri's own interview given to me in 1982 in Budapest, he rates "Twenty Hours" among his top four films--the others being "The Fifth Seal," "Hungarians." and "Professor Hannibal."

The astonishing facts about this film are that his film which is indirectly critical of the Russian interference in Hungary post-World War II (there is a passing mention of a communist official getting into trouble for the way he hung Stalin's photo frame) could be made in communist Hungary and go on to win the Grand Prix of the Moscow Film Festival, at a time when that festival was reputed to be one of the best in the world.

Some of the major spoken lines in the film include: "Everything is an illusion, senseless scrabbling about that many believe to be order itself. They are like the ants" Later towards the end in the film, with a repeated allegorical shot of live ants, another spoken line states "The ants kill each other" when they are moved from one location to another. "Why do they hate each other? This is history. You can't live without a guideline--or a belief"

The film is about a journalist visiting a small town in Hungary trying to figure out how individuals who grew and lived together turn against each other as years go by, as history replaces the rich landowners and landless poor with cooperatives where the poor get to own land. Even in the changed scenario there are no equals and moral lessons are never learnt. It is a film that makes you think about human values under stress, a theme beautifully illustrated in "The Fifth Seal." Here in "Twenty Hours" too religion is alluded to in words spoken by the townsfolk but not stressed. Doors and walls with bullet holes are retained as stark reminders of recent history, of mindless actions. What does the title refer to? Nothing in the film explains this--possibly it refers to the time spent by the journalist trying to figure out the town's history.

This is a film that few critics have discussed and requires more attention from true cineastes.