Writer: Béla Tarr
Stars: Laszlone Horvath, Laszlo Horvath, Gabor Kun
The Family Nest is the debut feature film by Hungarian director, Béla Tarr. It has such a unique style of storytelling, and a story that becomes riveting as it progresses. I didn't enjoy the film much at the start, but I ended up loving it towards the end. It had a really edgy feel to it. The black and white cinematography, absence of music, and lack of narrative made The Family Nest look more like a documentary than anything. I think that was the point of the film anyway. To show the world some of the very real problems that people had to face back in communist Hungary, 1979. It reminds me of films by Ingmar Bergman, with its in-depth look at the characters and their discussions. This film did test my patience at the start, but it was very rewarding in the end.
Set in The People's Republic of Hungary, 1979, The Family Nest is a story filled with oppression and conflict. Iren (Laszlone Horvath) and Laci (Lazlo Horvath) want nothing more than to move out of their parents flat with their young daughter. They can't do that, because there are 14,000 other applicants that also need a flat, which means that it could be years before they get one. After years of constant arguing, the relationship between Iren and her in-laws is at the end of its tether. We sit back and watch as hatreds, secrets, and demons are revealed among the family members.
Iren just wants to get out of her in-laws place and start afresh somewhere else. Whether it be in Budapest, where the 'fun' life costs more money, or in a village, where the dull life is cheaper. This family's life is dominated by the topic of money, whether they have enough to survive, or just move out. We find out all of this during a family reunion at the beginning of the film, where everyone's talking over each other and the topics are constantly changing. I found it to be very confusing, and almost headache inducing, to try to keep up with all the banter and new information. I was trying to piece together the storyline through snippets of their conversations, because then I'd know at least something about these characters. It just wasn't very entertaining or interesting for me. I don't mind simplicity, and I don't mind complication, yet somehow the style of The Family Nest really irritated me at first.
This is a pretty big family we're dealing with. They all pack into this tiny little flat, which is why there is so much noise and very little focus on a particular subject. I think its purpose was to submerse us into that environment, to let us know the kind of lifestyle these people are akin to. It's a frustrating and rambunctious environment, one that really bothered me. I felt a little overwhelmed by the constant banter and shifty camera. It just wasn't a pleasant experience. You know what I originally wrote about the film. "Based on the first 20 minutes alone, I never want to see this film again." I spoke way too soon!
Most of the conflict is instigated by the father in-law, played by Gabor Kun. He's a cantankerous old man and war veteran that constantly makes snide comments to Iren. He paints himself as the smartest, wisest person that never makes mistakes. His conversation's take up a lot of the film's running time, but I also found them to be the most entertaining of the lot. There's a scene where he brings up a past memory of war, only briefly. He gets cut off and doesn't finish the story, but the scene lingers on his face for a while. His melancholy expression and quietness tells us that it was a painful memory. Then the film returns to normal conversation, and that detailed moment of reflection is but a passing moment. I found that scene to be a diamond in the rough. Gabor Kun gave such a phenomenal, memorable performance. I'd give him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar of 1979.
We also get to see passing glimpses of prejudices and sexism from the in-laws, such as distrust towards gypsies and derogatory comments about women being lesser than men. It's done in such a natural way, it wouldn't surprise me if the actors truly believed what they were saying.
One of my favourite scenes in the film is when we get to hear the stories of two women just trying to get a flat for their family. It shed light on why people in Hungary are so desperate to get a flat. Iren and Laci don't have enough points to get a flat, which is why they're stuck in a full, conflicted household. These women that were telling their story came across as real people. I'm not entirely sure if that was scripted, or if Béla Tarr went down to a housing commission and interviewed people. I just found that sequence extraordinary... and upsetting when one of the women walked away after being refused a flat. Pretty depressing stuff.
As time went on, I found myself getting really invested in the film. I just felt so involved with their lives. It's as if the more time I spent with them, the more I cared about where they would end up. I started getting upset during the arguments, and more thoughtful of the characters. Slowly but surely, more shades of the characters personalities were being revealed. I started to really enjoy the drama that unfolded, because I understood why there was so much animosity within the family. Everyone there has a right to be angry, and everyone there made wrong decisions. I began to see this film as a masterpiece, with its perfect performances and seamlessly natural dialogue. Trust me, it's one of those movies that gets better as you watch it.
As everything starts to fall apart, it becomes clear that the problems arose from being cooped up in a flat with no privacy from their parents. "There's only one way to put this right. If we had a flat all to ourselves." It seems like everyone in the family has their secrets, their imperfections, their demons. The chaotic drama all stems from the characters having to live together, where their personalities and demons clash. If there is a message to take away from the film, it would be about the detrimental impacts of housing shortages in late 1970s Hungary. We see a family being torn apart because they can't stand to live with one another. While this is the main story, I believe Tarr used this as a way to show the world how the Hungarian government at the time was dysfunctional with housing grants. While I don't believe for a second that a flat will solve all of their problems, I do believe that it is the major cause of the rift between the family.
My review seems pretty mixed right now. During the early parts of the film, I was quite bored and restless. It moved slowly, revealed nothing, and seemed to be going nowhere. Then as time when on, I got to know the characters, their story, and the drama that lies within. This film enlightens the world to a major problem that Hungarian citizens were faced with during those times, making it an important piece of cinema. It became a truly riveting film, and I enjoyed the story immensely. If I saw this film again, I'm sure I'd love it much more. It's a really good movie, one that requires patience and reflection. I'll definitely be seeking it out again.