There has never been anything “not strange” that has come out of Hungarian cinema. Especially when it comes to director György Pálfi, director of Taxidermia. His second feature length venture is equally as strange as his first. Free Fall (Szabadesés) follows the tale of an elderly woman who lives in a seven story flat then jumps off the top of the building in an apparent suicide. What comes next carries the film through its 80-minute run-time as the elderly woman gets up and walks back up the stairs. Each story of the flat is a vignette, a strange peek into the strange people that we are.
It’s very hard to describe Free Fall. It’s strange, disturbing, eccentric, dramatic, and hilarious. Pálfi masterfully directs each bleak vignette as they feel like a very intimate part of a larger story. They tell the tales of childhood, adolescence, engagement, marriage, birth, and death and how they relate to society as a whole.
Many of the concepts and story telling methods felt strange to me at first reflection. For example, Europeans view nudity in different terms than we Americans do. We more often than not associate nudity with sexuality whereas in Europe, nudity is nudity.
That being said, the second vignette of the film is a completely nude female as she is introduced by her fiancé to people at their engagement party. She feels lost and is separated from the other partygoers by her nudity (we’ve all felt naked at a party before) and her distance as she takes a smoking break outside. We follow her as the camera does, oftentimes blindly through the throngs of attendees, and there we find our sense of connection with her. This scene is painted by dark, warm colors and tight shots as Pálfi gets across what he’s trying to communicate.
Many of these bleak and oftentimes darkly comedic vignettes intend to communicate something much deeper that what is at face value. Peter DeBruge writes for Variety that, “For those sufficiently familiar with Hungarian culture, no doubt the seven intermingled threads offer a more coherent commentary on social values in free fall…”
Indeed, the sixth vignette Free Fall follows a woman who, in essence, gets a reverse abortion. She has had her baby of a few months and wants to reabsorb the baby. In an incredibly disturbing scene the baby is put back into the woman in this “standard” procedure. The colors of this vignette are cold, saturated by blues. I found myself unable to look away from this graphic depiction but I came away with a better understanding of birth. Unintended or not, Pálfi has created something of a social commentary not only on birth, but also on abortion. Hungary is known for its incredibly liberal laws pertaining to abortion and maybe this is a peek into how abominable the practice really is. Regardless, this scene is well shot and the Pálfi never dares to allow the viewer to look away from the grotesque picture being displayed.
Pálfi then depicts incredibly safe sex as a neat freak husband and wife use condoms and wrapping each other in plastic to protect each other from viruses. But in the end a virus does infiltrate the seemingly idyllic couple. This vignette may have more of a pointed commentary than we would like to imagine.
Each vignette could be enough to stand on its own merits, then again that would only go to run counter to what Pálfi intends for the film. As Martin Kudlac writes for Twitch Film, “The film migrates from the realm of the corporeal to a mental one, bouncing against and through the delicate boundaries of what is considered to be normal.” Each vignette only goes to serve a greater purpose in Pálfi’s ingenious film which may confuse some at the onset, but after further reflection, begins to reveal a deeper problem not only in ourselves, but in the societies we live in.
I give Free Fall four out of five cockroaches: