We have pockets of slavs, which sounds sort of like an exotic fast food (Slav Pockets!) which is why we get oddball things like Russian flicks, Polish film festivals and then things like this: A Hungarian film being shown for no (obvious) reason in the middle of the week. Well, I asked, and it apparently there’s a guy who puts on a Hungarian film festival—that’s how many of these things there are, it’s impossible to keep track of all the film festivals—and he’s trying to keep the Hungarian energy going by showing a film, monthly, presumably to build up to the big event. This showing even featured an appearance from a star from this fun little ’70s flick, Egy erkölcsös éjszaka.
That translates into “A Moral Night” per Google, but the English title is “A Very Moral Night”, perhaps because we lack subtlety of mind or language. But a moral night it turns out to be, sorta.
The story, based on the novel “The Shroud House” from pre-Communist Hungary, is about a young doctor who is a bit of a gadabout but very popular with the girls of the local brothel. It’s never exactly clear why (although one of the girl’s suggests it is the generosity of his endowment, which seems kind of contra-indicated for a working girl) but it’s not that he’s handsome, smart, rich or even all that nice. Whatever the reason, they like him well enough for the Madam to realize that he could save some money and they could make some, if only he moved out of the town hotel (where he’s being gouged) and lived with them.
It’s an agreeable arrangement with only one caveat: His aunt, who sends him all his money, must never find out, as she is a very proper woman.
Amusingly enough, this fellow is so dissolute that even while he lives in the brothel, he spends most of his nights elsewhere, gambling and probably carousing amongst the amateurs and semi-professionals, and so he’s not around when the inevitable happens: His aunt shows up.
I mean, Chekov’s gun and all. What did you think was going to happen?
Partly out of greed, presumably, but mostly out of respect, the Madam doesn’t open the house for the evening and the girls all dress up to the best of their ability, and do their best to entertain the sweet old lady who is interesting and interested in modern life. (Life in the Hungarian countryside in, say, 1850 versus city life in 1930, e.g.) She’s also a wise problem solver who, honestly, the real question is: Does she figure it out or doesn’t she?
By the end of the night, the facade is cracking as the rowdy town officials come in looking for comfort, and she knows them or knows of them or their families, leading to another awkward round of social interactions. The actress (in her mid-’80s, if IMDB is to be believed) plays it very inscrutably. At one point, she’s talking to one of the girls who tries to commit suicide because she can’t marry her fiancee, and she’s acknowledging all of the problems (the girl’s occupation never entering into it) which has its own level of charm: They’re too close in age, they’re religiously mismatched, and so many things that Aunt Kelepei proposes solutions for and points out in 40 years, no one will care and those things won’t matter.
It’s charming. All’s well that ends well. Some good laughs, a rather shocking suicide attempt in one of the the worst possible ways. (Setting your room on fire and figuring you’ll get taken out with it.) Overall, fairly light of touch, and a little surprising to have come out of Hungary in the ’70s. But perhaps it reflects capitalistic decadence in a party way, or perhaps, like the Soviets, the spent Communist governments became increasingly unable to crush all the artists under their feet.
We rolled the dice, as The Boy would say, and were glad we did.