Reviewed by: Chris

Péter Mészáros' cinematic study of a famous painting (Watteau's Setting Off For The Island Of Cythere) narrowly (but successfully) avoids being pretentious. We become so immersed in the working class lives of couple Csilla and Bandi that the mystery creeps up on us. It sparks our interest in a mythological (and artistic) dilemma rather than forcing one on us.

Csilla and Bandi spend their lives watching cheap quizzes and football on TV. When they have sex, it somehow doesn't approach the romantic ideals they admire in young lovers. Bandi's a bit of a slob. Beer and footie. But he's just the right side of amiable cuddly-bear. He always convinces Csilla to put up with him - or even that she loves him. They flick through a holiday brochure and decide to save up for a holiday in the Greek island of Kythera (in mythology, the birthplace of Aphrodite). Before they get there, a major life event causes Bandi to stumble. And we maybe harbour a wish that it will make Csilla see the light.

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Csilla has found the Watteau painting in an art textbook - which seems a bit of a stretch from her usual diet of mail-order catalogues. The book says the theme and title are disputed. Just as a similar theme is about to be shaken up in Csilla's own voyage towards love and happiness. (For artbuffs, the disputed details offer a clever commentary on the film itself.)

Kata Kovács puts in a multi-faceted and finely shaded performance as Csilla, although other characters are less well-developed and Bandi verges on overdoing it. Cinematography blends mundane and wish-fulfilment landscapes seamlessly, and makes the film aesthetically pleasing in spite of the odd sweary word or intentionally ungainly sex. I found I could also forgive clumsy English in the subtitles, as it doesn't detract from the obvious artistic intent and merit.

Mészáros seems to knows his stuff when it comes to art, and has shaped a clever reflection of his rococo painter's theme. Any serious examination ,however, would have to note that Watteau had no desire to recreate the classical world of Aphrodite. Psychologically, his - and hence the film's - theme could be said to relate more to the folly of Orpheus who, in a moment of forgetfulness, loses love by looking over his shoulder on the way out of Hades. (Classical themes of Aphrodite normally relate to altogether more translucent ideals.) Although technically a great painting, Watteau's symbols are totally cockeyed. So why pay homage to such a flawed idea?

Ultimately, Kythera is kitchen sink soap opera with fine and beautiful academic trappings added. It keeps you awake just out of desire to join up the dots. The sort of art-house movie to take friends to if you want to wean them off the multiplex. Capable performances and a lot of skill in the making. Clever and tasteful stuff. But I hold out a lingering hope that the future will see Mészáros lend his unquestionable talents to works of greater intellectual integrity and consistency.

Reviewed on: 14 Aug 2007
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Kythera packshot
A cinematic interpretation of Watteau's painting Setting Off For The Island Of Cythere

Director: Péter Mészáros

Writer: Péter Mészáros

Starring: Kata Kovács, András Tóth, Nikolett Krajcsi, Petronella Tóth, Balázs Bodolai

Year: 2006

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: Hungary


EIFF 2007

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