An unnamed city comes to life in Szabolcs Hajdu’s mesmerising nocturnal drama built from a twenty-two strong ensemble
Treasure City (Békeidõ) opens with a quote from Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard: “As if just then everything was possible: the ugly approaches the beautiful, and vice versa, the ruthless and the weak.” This sentiment about the compatibility between incompatible binaries underscores Szabolcs Hajdu’s alluring portrait of an unnamed Hungarian city at twilight. Under moonlight and street lamps, a host of obscure characters illuminate its dark corners over the course of one night.
Two women discuss why the youngest of them (Fanni Wrochna) is unable to stop lying compulsively; a taxi radio speaks of Brussel’s migration crisis; at a florist's, a woman (Lilla Sárosdi) accompanied by her young daughter (Magdó Pálfi), starts a fight; a couple (Szabolcs Hajdu and Nóra Földeáki) fall apart at the dinner table over how they’ve raised their son (Ábel Krokovay); a group of activists march on a government building with a message of fury over the country’s leadership.
Then, as an audience sits against the walls of an apartment to watch as a theatre show takes place in the living room, we notice the young female liar we met at the very beginning. Now we’re caught in an intricate web of twenty-two characters made from seemingly isolated interactions and tied together by an invisible thread that is slowly untangled throughout the runtime.
Charting the city through the eyes of its inhabitants, Treasure City rejects conventional alternate close-ups in shooting dialogue. Instead, Csaba Bántó’s steady camera glides through these peculiar spaces in continuous shots that often exceed seven minutes. Choosing this more astutely meditative approach, the film finds an intuitive pace that is impressively cohesive considering the number of interchanging storylines it flits between.
Fitting together these scenes to feel like they are puzzle pieces to a wider picture, editor Szabolcs Kővári works magic with moments of limited action that simply orbit two characters’ conversations. Meetings unravel details of the city and the sexual, familial, and romantic relationships it hosts, uncovering a sense that nothing is quite as it seems.
Most compelling are the parent-child relationships that come to mirror state-citizen interactions, power dynamics that further facilitate the growing generational divide and tense cultural conflict the film remarks on. Elsewhere, Fanni Wrochna’s performance is particularly noteworthy. At the first visible hint that these narratives are to intersect, she’s a grounding presence as the film ventures into the darkness and illuminates the shadowy aspects of human connection.
There’s a mystical enchantment that lingers in this film’s reality with its slow veering into the fantastical. Playing out to an entrancing soundtrack that sounds like twinkling a spell is being cast across the city, Treasure City is darkly stylistic. Hajdu’s film is both captivating and mystical, a smooth traversing of an unstable society.
Treasure City is now available to stream on Chili.Where to watch