Saturday, October 06, 2007

Chicago Film Festival: Men in the Nude

Number of nude men in Men in the Nude: Zero. Aside from some glimpses of backside and some female bosoms, the title of Károly Esztergályos' movie doesn't denote anything except some marketer's cynical attempt to hustle an audience looking for a thrill. Clearly, I was such an audience, but since I don't care about the baseball playoffs or the new fall season on TV, you can't be too hard on me. Plus, as Nathaniel has often observed, it's a fairly open secret that a gay moviegoer implicitly obligates himself (or, despite a perpetually malnourished market, herself) to see a steady stream of coming-out comedies and somber closet dramas that have big dreams of mediocrity, and next to no aspirations toward actual, enduring value.

Men in the Nude—about a middle-aged Hungarian novelist (Lászlo Gálffi) who surprises himself by taking home a young, blond, rabbit-faced hustler (Dávid Szabó) while the writer's wife (Éva Kerekes) is off performing a play in the provinces—treads a lot of safe, unilluminating water for its first hour. Chest-kissing, opera, poppers, petty crime, early-dawn homecomings, briberies, saucy wives, the heedlessness of youth, the laments of encroaching age. I will say that Esztergályos offers the first image I've ever seen of a character reading aloud from great hardcover literature (Death in Venice, as if you didn't assume) while simultaneously being fellated (and in the very same shot!). Had the movie hewed to the path of well-worn inanity and yielded another tacky-sexy chuckle or two like this one, Men in the Nude could have relied on its notoriously generous niche-market constituency for a passing grade: our version of the Gentleman's C. There but for the (dis)grace of compulsive jump cuts, truncated subplots, and what-were-they-thinking allusions to the film's own emptiness goes Esztergályos. "Wife comes home early—it's a banal story," the writer confides to his Mrs. and to the audience, with faster and fuller assent from the latter, and that's even before a stilted penultimate sequence in a police interrogation room or a desperately "surreal" finale that conjoins far-scattered spaces and swells the volume of the soundtrack for no reason but the most pitifully failed echoes of Lynchian unmooring or exquisite Beau travail-style crystallization. If the Men were emotionally or psychologically denuded, to whatever qualified degree, Esztergályos would have at least some reason to have made this movie, much less to have chosen this moniker. But even by the standards of visually undistinguished wait-for-the-DVD fare, this one's fully missable. D+

Photo © 2006 Centrál Filmstúdió

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