In the wry sexual comedy "Tight Quarters" (today at Goldwyn Pavilion Cinema), the place is Budapest; the time is the present; the milieu is the fringes of society; the problem--three in a bed. Or possibly four, if you count one wife, one husband (forcibly separated from his wife and only recently paroled), one boorish lover and the State, a many-faced presence in the private--not to say intimate--lives of its citizens.
Long-legged, sloe-eyed and unnervingly self-possessed, Eva is at the center of the triangle. When she and Charlie were together, they made a real couple, volatile tempers or not. But when he was put in the slammer for 28 months, as a result of a bar brawl when one of his attackers pulled a knife, Eva became lonely. Then depressed. Then restless.
Enter the pugnacious Michael, long in the sideburns-and-leather-coat department, not too swift in the upper story. But very possessive about Eva. And--in a city where years-long delays for housing are standard--about her apartment.
Released from jail, Charlie comes back to the ugly cement housing unit where his name still appears on the lease and makes his stand: He wants his wife and he wants his apartment. Maybe not even with equal fervor--he's not going to be talked out of a roof over his head, no matter what.
He moves back in, over Michael's protests and to Eva's sulky amusement. So begins this Hungarian menage a trois , with sniping, harassment, provocation, seduction, one-night stands and fuse-filching all part of the game. Charlie brings all sorts of women home; Eva buys a neon sign that brightens his cramped room like daylight and hums to boot; Michael walks in on Charlie's girls in the shower.
As the police dossier of complaints about Charlie rises like bread dough, director/co-writer Gyorgy Szomjas cocks an amused and unsurprised eye at this potentially bleak material. He uses a pair of sizzling young actors to turn it into bitingly satirical comedy-drama about love played by the rules of state bureaucracy.
This is the first real chance that American audiences have had to see the charismatic Karoly Eperjes, Hungary's answer to Gerard Depardieu, with a touch of De Niro for good measure. (His role in "Colonel Redl" was showy but short as the outraged young officer who strips down to his long johns in protest.)
His Charlie is what in French movies is called a mec : tough, good in a fight, a man to be counted on. Gabin played mecs , and Depardieu has the current corner on them. Ex-pro soccer player Eperjes (EH-pair-yes) mixes humor with his sexuality, and a certain electric dangerousness in his quietest moment.
Eperjes is classically trained; Mariann Erdos, as Eva, is raw and instinctive, but she has the assurance of a young Bacall and a cast-iron attitude that serves her magnificently, especially since Eva's vacillating feelings toward Charlie are part of the movie's mystery.
With Japan's "The Crazy Family" also opening this week (see review on Page 8), it's interesting to see how two directors deal with the pressures of their surroundings. The Japanese director responds with black farce of the wildest kind; the Hungarian with oblique, cumulative humor, with dryness and a deliberate alienating technique in telling his story.
Szomjas mixes black-and-white footage with color, and with specially processed colors to underline, highlight or heighten his action. He repeats a sexually charged moment with little differences of focus--the way the mind runs over a memory in recollection. (The film's Times-rating of Mature is for nudity, frank language and sexual situations.)
Szomjas loves the raffish and the unexpected: Charlie's earnest mother, endlessly testifying on behalf of her son, documents pinned to her maternal bosom. And he has a vicious eye for the apartment's Quisling, the state spy with his max-power binoculars and easy lies.
At its most horrifying, "Tight Quarters" is a lesson in life lived with Big Brother at your very bedside. Brilliantly played by the entire cast, it is leavened by a saving humor, but its commentary is savage and stinging. 'TIGHT QUARTERS'
A Gray City Release of a MaFilm-HUNNIA Studio, Budapest Production. Director Gyorgy Szomjas. Screenplay Szomjas, Csaba Kardos, Sandor Fabry, Ferenc Grunwalsky. Camera Grunwalsky. Editor Klara Majoros. Music Tamas Somlo. Sound Gyorgy Kovacs. Dialogue Istvan Verebes. Special effects Peter Timar. With Karoly Eperjes, Mariann Erdos, Peter Andorai, Edit Abraham, Vera Molnar, Julia Galik, Gergely Bikacsy.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.