PERPETUITY No-Budget Dystopia Offers Temporary Dressing

Famous and acclaimed Hungarian director György Pálfi created his latest work, Perpetuity, in the main competition of the Estonian Film Festival.

Pálfi has become the rare breed of a filmmaker whose works are sought after, even if funding does not come easily. After a fairly avant-garde adaptation of Stanislaw Lem’s philosophical science fiction The voice of his master, the Hungarian pioneer returns to lo-fi cinema.

Initially planned for 2016, Perpetuity, then known as For Ever (according to a short story from Sándor Tar), was awaiting post-production in 2015 (read the news). The project seemed to fall into oblivion until it was learned that Pálfi was finalizing a batch of three films, Perpetuity being one of them.

Set in the near future, Ocsenás wanders a post-apocalyptic Hungarian countryside collecting debris amid wreckage of downed planes. Europe has been at war for a few years, and Ocsenás helped out at a local hospital. Injured soldiers continue to arrive, but the circumstances of their injuries and trauma are not openly discussed.

The protagonist spends free time at a local pub that doubles as a pawnshop, where he trades junk for bottles of moonlight. The whole village seems to run on alcohol; no other currency is used in transactions.

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The village with its dilapidated houses is sparsely inhabited; combat-unfit old men hang in the pub while the remaining civilians are terrorized by an unknown sniper. His most frequent targets are women and children, so Ocsenás doesn’t bother him. Fairly quickly, the protagonist finds a new pal, a local drunkard and a strange duck, and another lost existence in the desert, Béres who keeps a surviving flight attendant as his personal pet.

There isn’t much action in the sorry world of Perpetuity. Ocsenás navigates the place of boredom and with a little sense, the veneer of civilization and humanity is unraveling. Pálfi’s latest film appears to be an attempt to marry genre cinema with an existential slow cinema concept with an obvious political bent.

The village seems to live in a bubble in its own right and it is not difficult to find parallels with the present day, when the society is too polarized and radicalized. The main protagonist tries to find some happiness and zest for life in the grim reality that often leads him to act like a big kid.

Perpetuity is a two-faced romance, a love story at the end of the world with Ocsenás wooing a nurse in a weird way and on a weird bromance with the violent Béres. The desire for human contact and companionship persists in desperate times. The film’s lack of plot corresponds to the aimless journey, a void that Béres tries to fill with constant alcohol consumption and unprovoked violence.

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The film shares a weak vibe of disillusionment with humanity (or Orbán’s Hungary), resembling an Eastern European version of Cormac McCarthy’s film. The road, while Pálfi frames the story in the ideal state of community cohabitation. Instead of McCarthy’s light as a symbol of faith, the characters in Pálfi’s world circulate a bottle of alcohol, as if a social lubricant is something necessary to preserve sanity – or prevent a sober assessment of the situation. – in the face of insignificance environment.

However, Perpetuity can only be a temporary dressing until the release of Pálfi’s other films. The director said filming and post-production was a no-budget affair he went through with a tight-knit and dedicated film crew.

The finalized work exceeds the notions and expectations of a DIY exercise without a budget. In this direction, Perpetuity is a triumph of cinema without a budget.

Anna Nyitrai won the award for best production design for her work on Perpetuity at the 2021 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

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