is the land of the kaidan and the grudge. Nobody does ghosts better. Even in a
whimsical retro-1970s capitalist Hungary, you will find Japanese ghosts tormenting
the living. The spirit of 1960s crooner Tomi Tani might look benign, but he
will cause all sorts of problems for a naïve private nurse in Károly Ujj Mészáros’s
Liza, the Fox-Fairy (trailer here), which screens as
part of the AFI’s 2015 EU Film Showcase.
years, Liza has dutifully cared for Marta, the Hungarian widow of the former
Japanese ambassador. Through her employer, Liza has absorbed a love of Japanese
history and culture, including Tani’s sugary grooves. For years, the singer has
inexplicably haunted Marta’s flat, but only Liza is able to see him, assuming
he is a benevolent spirit. Tani has fallen in love with her, but that is a bad
thing, especially when the lonely-hearted Liza finally starts to get proactive
everyone who gets close to her starts to die, including Marta, Liza figures out
she has been cursed to become a mythological Fox-Fairy. All men who love her
are doomed to such a fate. Naturally, the police start to suspect her of
multiple murders, especially since she inherited her employer’s flat, over the
objections of Marta’s greedy relatives. The only exception is the pure-hearted
but dangerously clumsy Sgt. Zoltan, an ardent fan of Finnish country music, who
becomes Liza’s other unlikely flat-mate.
Fox-Fairy looks like a Wes
Anderson film on twee steroids, but it has a surprising edge to it. Arguably,
it is more kaidan than quirk-fest, which is cool. However, Liza and Zoltan are
also refreshingly gentle souls, whom even the most jaded viewers will root for.
Evidently, Mészáros and Bálint Hegedűs adapted a stage play by Zsolt Pozsgai for
the big screen, but it is hard to imagine how all their visual mischief-making
could be rendered for live theater. Still, it would be worth watching Broadway
take a shot at it, even if the production fell on its face. Frankly, the film
has way more special effects than you would imagine, but it would be either
spoilery or utterly baffling to try to explain their context. Yet, Mészáros
always maintains a very personal vibe throughout the film.
Balsai and Szabolcs Bede-Fazekas are terrific as Liza and Zoltan, respectively.
They are both endearing in a puppy dog kind of way and achingly earnest,
without ever getting cloying. Likewise, the Danish-Japanese David Sakurai is
gleefully evil and impressively suave as Tani. As if he were not entertainingly
villainous enough, Zoltán Schmied truly personifies oily sleaze as Henrik,
Marta’s playboy nephew, whom Liza mistakenly falls for.
manages to be both cute and dark, which is quite a feat of filmmaking on Mészáros’s
part. It is a wildly inventive film, but the style never overwhelms the
characters or narrative. Very highly recommended, Liza, the Fox-Fairy screens this coming Thursday (12/17) as part of
the AFI’s EU Film Showcase.
Labels: AFI EU Showcase '15, Fairy tale cinema, Hungarian Cinema