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
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.