Magic Hunter

Weekly Alibi

DIRECTED BY: Ildiko Enyedi

REVIEWED: 09-04-96

For many people, watching an art film will illicit two frequent responses: "Who the hell are these people?" and "What the hell are they doing?" Most art films defy conventional communication in favor of symbolism and style. They tend to represent an intellectual journey rather than a mere two-hour entertainment fix. The newest film by Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi (My 20th Century) tries its hand at both.

The "who" of Magic Hunter is simple enough. Max (Gary Kemp) is a big-city cop with a lovely wife (Sadie Frost) and a beautiful little daughter (Alexandra Wasscher). The "what" is a bit more complicated. Max's confidence is shaken when he accidentally shoots a woman he is trying to protect. A mysterious friend on the force (Péter Vallai) gives him seven "magic bullets" that can hit any target without error. With his newfound "confidence" in tow, Max takes on an assignment to protect a visiting Russian chess champion named Maxim (Alexander Kaidanovsky). Max is not allowed to contact his charge, and so is reduced to shadowing the Russian around Budapest waiting for an unknown assassin to strike. Things get complicated when Maxim accidentally meets Max's young wife Eva. The two begin flirting, and Max becomes worried that his perfect home life may soon be falling apart. Interwoven with this sort of modern fairy tale are strange flashback sequences to medieval Hungary, where Christianity is a new religion replacing established pagan rule. In one flashback, villagers try to weasel their way out of a deal with the devil. In another, a procession of priests transporting a painting of the Virgin Mary across the countryside witness a miracle.

As a director, Enyedi pulls a luminous quality from the film. The mystical and the realistic blend with an integrated harmony. Dramatically, the film succeeds well. Gary Kemp (late of the British pop group Spandau Ballet) is quite good as the confused cop caught up in circumstances slightly beyond his own control. Fellow British actor Sadie Frost is magnetic in her screen persona as the pure (almost "virginal") mother. The triangle between Max, Eva and Maxim leads to some of the film's most effectively tense drama.

The fairy tale and flashback elements are only slightly less effective--perhaps because they require a certain amount of explanation. "We people living today have done all we can to put ourselves in mortal danger and only a miracle can save us," Enyedi says in the press kit. "The problem is that we believe in everything but miracles." As a director and co-writer of this film, Enyedi is trying to tell us that the solution to our problems lies in the past, when miracles were an accepted part of everyday life. That's a hard lesson to learn, however, when the "everyday life" involves magic bullets and deals with the devil. According to the press kit (and, unfortunately, never made explicit in the film) the seven magic bullets that Max receives are a gift from the devil. Six of them can hit any target, but the seventh will only hit a target of the devil's choosing. This information is fairly important--particularly toward the film's climax. I suspect something may have gotten lost in dragging this film to America. The "seven magic bullets" may be a traditional Hungarian folk tale ("seven magic arrows?"), easily recognized by European viewers. In America, our deals with the devil tend to include lawyers, contracts or blues musicians.

Despite its complex and occasionally confusing nature, Magic Hunter is a resolute work of art. Lovers of foreign film and high cinema in general will find more than enough to delight and intrigue in this decidedly offbeat fairy tale/cop drama.

--Devin D. O'Leary

Film Vault Suggested Links
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Double Indemnity

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