Magic Hunter | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Magic Hunter 

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In the opening scene of this 1994 Hungarian feature by Ildiko Enyedi (My Twentieth Century), a necklace falls from the neck of a young mother hiding in a World War II bomb shelter. As one of the pearls drops into the sewer, the camera follows its trek through the underground pipe. When the pearl emerges at the other end, a bird swoops down and takes it; we're now in a forest on the outskirts of present-day Budapest. Unexpected transitional moments like this take us across time and space in this dazzlingly inventive update of a central European legend about the devil and his seven magic bullets. In the present, an unnerved police sharpshooter named Max (Gary Kemp, from the band Spandau Ballet) accepts seven bullets from a cajoling colleague who promises their accuracy. Max proceeds to squander six of them without realizing that the last belongs to the devil and will only hit a target of his choice. When assigned to secretly guard a visiting Russian chess master (played by Alexander Kaidanovsky from Tarkovsky's Stalker) from an assassin, Max discovers more about himself and his wife (Sadie Frost) than he'd bargained for. Intercut with this narrative--which loosely parallels that of Weber's folk opera Der Freischutz, whose music is on the sound track--is a medieval tale about a caravan carrying a portrait of the Virgin Mary. Max shows up here as a hunter stalked by a whimsical horned devil who taunts the peasants for switching from paganism to Christianity; the relevance of this elliptical parable to the main story becomes apparent only toward the end. By adroitly modulating the two stories (and another episode taking place in war-torn Budapest) and playing with our presumptions of cause and effect, Enyedi, an imaginative director who subscribes to feminist mysticism, has come up with a beguiling modern fable in which the past comes to the aid of the present and women save men from their foibles. Magic Hunter can also be read as a political allegory about the return of religion (folk and otherwise) to fill the spiritual gap widened by communism. Though the film's metaphysical musings seem forced at times, the sheer brilliance and freshness of the visual metaphors further demonstrate Enyedi's originality. British actors Kemp and Frost, both convincing in their roles, are dubbed into Hungarian. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, January 18, 7:45; Sunday, January 19, 2:00 and 6:00; and Tuesday and Thursday, January 21 and 23, 6:00; 312-443-3737. --Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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