Szinbád: Hungary’s finest Casanova

A sub-titled film is always something of a challenge in the post-Christmas comedown, so its lucky that Szinbád is both sparsely scripted and beautifully shot. In fact, it’s sheer visual enjoyment from beginning to end, a glorious treat for the eyes that lingers in the mind.

Lyrical vignettes, sepia photographic montages and interlinking microscopic nature-derived details lend an otherworldly quality to scenes, and the opening sequence (where two women dance in the woods) is clever interplay of light and shadow, the lush foliage greens in contrast to their whiter-than-snow dresses. Ambitious DP Sándor Sára and director Zoltán Huszárik allows the camera to linger on landscape and vistas, from vast frozen lakes to misty mountains and leafy graveyards, creating an idyllic landscape that provides the backdrop for Szinbád’s later-year musing.

The (admittedly fluid) plot is based upon the work of Hungarian modernist Gyula Krúdy, whose daring texts were driven by observation rather than events – much like the film itself. Szinbád, the dapper and well-dressed protagonist, is a surprisingly likeable womanizer and a libertine, who reminisces and idles over numerous dalliances and the women who have had an impact on his life. An unlikely Lothario, with a neat, trimmed moustache and greying hair, he knows how to manipulate women yet casts himself as victim. He is gluttonous (as a much-referenced, indulgent restaurant scene attests), but full of vitality, prone to love but unable to understand the fairer sex. There is a sense that he has squandered both life and opportunity, yet his regrets are limited.

The film is shot as a series of memories in no discernable order; the viewer is captured inside Szinbád’s head, at the whim of his emotions and recollections. Several scenes are infused with a touch of Gothic romanticism – as Szinbád woos his ladylove in a graveyard, and then meets his maker within the confines of a church, but for the most part Huszárik does not rely on exaggerated sentimentality or clichés.

The costumes (designed by Nelly Vágo) are as rich and scrumptious as the scenery, and the women (who almost seem to represent every age, social class and perhaps every season) are lavishly dressed. It’s interesting to note that the film was released in the early 1970’s and, whilst not set in the era, the warm jewel colour palette and the flamboyance more commonly associated with this period prevails.

Several oversize hats come bedecked with silk flowers or Birds-of-Paradise worthy feather plumage, floor-sweeping skirts styled with exaggerated shoulders and smocking detailing. The attention to detailing and the focus on textures extends the costumes – from panels of delicate lacework to fur-trim cuffs to the trailing red scarf worn in one of the concluding skating scenes. These are clothes that don’t aim to steal the limelight, but contribute towards an impressive and ambitious artistic aesthetic, and have aided the creation of a slow-burning cinematic longevity.

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