The Little Valentino

This 1979 debut feature by Andras Jeles marked a sharp turning away from the dutiful social realism and geriatric melancholy that familiarly define Hungarian cinema, though on the evidence of subsequent work by Szabo, Meszaros, Kezdi-Kovacs, Makk, et al, Jeles's has been an example more acclaimed in principle than imitated in practice. His Valentino is an aggressively experimental film, elliptical in the manner of the old New Wave, with a story line comprising a series of tenuously connected vignettes: a disaffected youth (Janos Opoczki) steals some money and spends the rest of his time idling on park benches, in restaurants, pinball parlors, and assorted cars and trolleys. The grainy verite images and peripatetic styling (the youth wanders through an eccentric social landscape that seems forever at Marxian loose ends) in some ways anticipate the comic odysseys of Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise), though Jeles's modernist ambitions and formal energy go considerably beyond Jarmusch's narrow subcultural conceits. Not an easy film to approach, but it's hard not to be impressed by its on-the-edge assurance.

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