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Rick McGrath [Celluloid 08.20.09] Hungary post apocalyptic movie review scifi drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Roland Vranik
Writers: Roland Vranik / András Barta
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Rick McGrath
Rating: 8 out of 10

Transmission: On

Ever wonder what it might be like to live in a world where no computer screens or TV monitors work? Ahh, you’re thinking – a snap. Who needs that stuff, anyway? Surprise… you’re going back to a basically agrarian lifestyle. And it’s not as much fun as you’d think. It could, in fact, drive you crazy.

And that’s the basis of Adás (literal translation: Transmission), a very odd little post-apocalyptic effort from Hungary, written by András Barta and Roland Vranik, who also directed. Transmission follows the unusual adventures of three brothers – Henrik, Vilmos and Ottó – as they try to adjust to this new communication-free environment.

And an odd place it is. Some things work, others don’t. There’s no electricity because power plants run on computers. Cars still work, but it’s obviously just a matter of time before the gas runs out. The city is basically deserted, but nothing has been trashed or destroyed. We’re told the population has essentially moved to the country so they can farm. The remaining urban population seems polite and law-abiding, even though any police force has been rendered useless. Roaming gangs of youths provide the only irrational violence, but we’re only shown one specific scene. People still use money. Meat has become a luxury and a few fish are sold daily at the docks, but there seems to be lots of food about, as all our protagonists tend to be always eating and drinking as the plot quietly unfolds. Everyone lives in cool houses and nobody really works and you find yourself thinking: hey, what’s so bad about this gig?

Well, nothing, unless you’re one of the three stooges in Vranik’s tragicomedy of withdrawal from the TV and computer. Henrik, Vilmos and Ottó are addicted to the daily transmission, and this movie is a kind of documentary of their reactions and fates. But with a dystopian subplot that involves Vilmos’s two young children. Henrik has simply gone crazy. He used to fall asleep watching the TV, and now with no TV he can’t sleep at all. Vilmos runs a store where people bring in car batteries and charge them up on treadmills, and the lack of TV has led to fights with his wife and alienation from his kids. Ottó just hangs around as a helper to the other two, but he has friends who sit and meditate in front of shrines of TV and computer screens, convinced they’re still playing, but that a kind of mass hypnosis blocks them from seeing anything.

I’m not going to spoil all by telling you the plot – it’s convoluted, involves lots of subterfuge and not much explanation for anything – but even if there was no plot this movie could be recommended simply on the story of Henrik, who from the first frame is right out of the obsessive, psychopathological playbook of JG Ballard. Dazed by insomnia, confused by constantly popping black market sleeping pills, Henrik is well down the rabbit hole to complete psychosis when one day he has an epiphany. He’s sitting on his couch holding the useless channel changer, and like many times before he looks up to see his picture window… but rather than noticing the view this time he sees the viewer – the window – and hey, it’s about the same shape as the TV screen. He flicks the controller at the window, but it’s still not quite a TV. It’s not the right kind of transmitter. The view involves his yard and the sea, and I’m guessing the angle between these two walls is too realistic. Too much foreground for it to be a window to an imaginative elsewhere. Then, similar to a Ballard character scratching out hieroglyphs at the bottom of an empty swimming pool, Henrik begins his quest to build his own TV, even though he doesn’t know what it will be. In a long montage sequence he starts by making a concrete walkway from his patio to the edge of his property, which drops to the sea below. Then he constructs an eight-foot high white stone wall all along the property line, blocking out the sea view. Next comes a stone table and chairs, then a large stone dog, crudely carved from large white rectangles of the same building material. He amuses himself by holding the dog’s head high so it can see over his huge, white wall and whatever is on the water. Then he makes a hole in the wall that looks just like a giant widescreen TV. This, he can watch. Finally, he can sleep. Or… is he dead?

Transmission is also funky because of its slow burn approach to developing the story. Right from the start it adopts an omnipotent narrator pose, neutrally recording the action over a three week period as a cut-in and cut-out of a family in action. We know little of the characters, save what’s revealed through the action, nothing of what caused the transmission shutdown, and almost nothing of what kind of future this life-changing technological backstep will create – except for small hints about the feral qualities of whatever kids are left to fend for themselves. And that, I think, is the real “story” behind transmission – not the electronic stuff that gives us pictures, the internet and cell phones – but the transmission of the sins of the adults upon the young, absorptive, and not so innocent. The story begins with a gang of violent youths, and it ends with orphans created by violence obsessively using a slide… in between we’re witnesses to how the cessation of technological – anti-social -- communication can reveal the real paucity of human interaction and influence the way individuals interact with the new reality. Which is suddenly, decidedly real.

It’s a very good movie. The acting is of a uniformly high standard – especially Sándor Terhes, who plays the insomniac madman artist Henrik. The cinematography is subtle and delicate, reminding me a bit of the work of Solveig Nordlund with cool POVs, clever colour blocking and crisp architectural framing. Kudos to director Roland Vranik, cinematographer Gergely Pohárnok, editor Wanda Kiss, and production designer Gábor Valcz.

Transmission. T’would be a transgression if you didn’t see this if the opportunity arises. It may seem to be about what happens when one form of communication stops, but it’s really about how other forms of transmission begin. The adults are stuck in the past, so the children hold the key. Unfortunately, the lock may be on a box once owned by Pandora.

Transmission: Off

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agentorange (12 years ago) Reply

Transmission is well worth your praise. I liked it a lot.

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