Vol 0, No 26
22 March 1999
New Age Visions (Part I)
Zoltan Kamondi's Az alkemista es a szuz
Andrew J Horton
Not so long ago, the archetypal cinematic mad professor had white hair, wore a threadbare jacket and was constantly searching for his misplaced glasses. These days, as depicted in Zoltan Kamondi's Az alkemista es a szuz (The Alchemist and the Virgin, 1998), he is young, handsome and shockingly good in bed with his students.
Kamondi's attempt to capitalise on the craze for mysticism, centres on one Laszlo Sziraki, a ceaselessly energetic, young academic whose knowledge of chemistry and alchemy combine to give him the keys to one of the most sought after secrets in history. There are two catches to Laszlo's method of manufacturing gold. First, the gold that is produced is not permanent and reverts back to its natural state - plastic - after a few days; second, to trigger the reaction process, he seems to need to have sex with a virgin in the vicinity of his apparatus. When he does, lights start appearing and there are whizzings and whirrings as the special effects team goes into overdrive.
The gold arrives at a timely moment, because young Laszlo is desperately strapped for cash. It also comes in handy in wooing Esztena. Maci, her wrestler boyfriend, takes a rather different view of affairs, and after much inconsequential chasing about (optimistically described in the production notes as "unexpected turns") he pokes Laszlo's eyes out with his thumbs. Laszlo jumps off a cliff in despair at losing his sight, but by chance lands on a passing microlite with fireworks on its wings. Maci, for rather less obvious reasons, saws his own leg off with a chainsaw and Esztena is reunited with the blinded Laszlo after seeing him on the TV acting as a faith healer in a semi-submerged village.
If you are to say one nice thing about Kamondi's script, then it has to be that it is neither predictable nor formulaic. However, all praise must end there. Kamondi's adolescent desire to astonish us produces a film with little human feeling and no plausibility. The plot twists and turns to try and keep us on our toes, but all that Kamondi succeeds in doing is making his story line incoherent. Indeed, Kamondi's Az alkemista es a szuz neatly illustrates the point that the script is a pivotal part of any film. The acting is competent and the directing, at least on the basis of individual scenes, is assured, but the film is doomed by its badly thought-out scripting.
"Alchemy could be the metaphor of our age," claim the film's pretentious production notes. This could be so. Alchemy is symptomatic of an era in which quality has gone by the wayside and trickery and superficiality are seen to be more favourable than hard work and depth. It certainly could be said to be a metaphor for the production of the film - attempting to convert cheap and worthless source material into a weird and wondrous cinematic masterpiece. Alchemy failed. So, has Kamondi.
Andrew J Horton, 26 March 1999
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