2023 Film Essays

On György Fehér’s ‘Twilight’ and the Eternity of Nature

Twilight Essay - 1990 György Fehér Movie Film

This Twilight essay contains spoilers. György Fehér’s 1990 film features Péter Haumann, János Derzsi and Judit Pogány. Check out VV movie reviews, along with cast/character articles, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings, at the home page.

The eternity of nature manipulates the characters of György Fehér’s Twilight (Szürkület). The Hungarian filmmaker — a collaborator of the legendary slow cinema master Béla Tarr (Satantango) — positions Mother Nature as a disinterested God, a presence that guides an unnamed detective to unfortunate truths while investigating the murder of an eight-year-old girl. Twilight pays homage to its 1958 predecessor, It Happened in Broad Daylight — Ladislao Vajda’s adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s novella — but focuses specifically on the experience of feeling lost, confused and frightened while navigating wide open spaces. Overall, Fehér’s 1990 adaptation heavily contrasts with Sean Penn’s 2001 take, The Pledge, a Jack Nicholson-led film that’s more of character study than a meditation on cosmic horror.

Twilight chronicles a changing belief system. For Fehér’s protagonist, the pressure to catch a killer puts him at odds with community traditions. There’s no time to sing and laugh. Due to groupthink or shared apathy, the locals lose faith. And so the focal detective focuses on Mother Nature’s clues instead of friendships. Where there’s a forest, there’s a monster. Where’s there’s a potential victim, there’s the threat of evil. The black-and-white cinematography implies that the investigator sees evil everywhere — in chocolate, in skeptical locals, even in the eyes of a young girl. The tension of space and time mindfucks Fehér’s protagonist, much like the main players of modern productions such as Yellowjackets (stranded teenagers in a Canadian forest) or Midsommar (scared Americans in a creepy Swedish commune).

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Twilight Essay - 1990 György Fehér Movie Film

Fehér’s direction, in collaboration with cinematographer Miklós Gurbán (Werckmeister Harmonies), challenges audience expectations. There’s the formalism of traditional black-and-white noirs (high-contrast lighting, X-shaped visuals that foreshadow death), but also a series of right-to-left pan shots that culminate with a jarring left-to-right sequence. There’s the traditional multi-character framing techniques of the aforementioned It Happened in Broad Daylight, along with deep focus domestic settings.

While Penn often plays clumsily with his themes in the 2001 film, he at least explores the utter bewilderment of Nicholson’s Jerry Black. In Twilight, the consistent pacing and camera movements call to mind a modern auteur like Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), a Danish filmmaker who informs the audience about his characters’ perspectives through a show-and-tell approach: long takes, slow pans, up/down, left/right.

Twilight Essay: Related — Soundtracks of Cinema: ‘Drive’

Twilight Essay - 1990 György Fehér Movie Film

Fehér’s mash-up of horror and noir builds to a subtle commentary about religion. Is God present when a child gets killed with a razor in broad daylight? Fehér acknowledges a different higher being (Mother Nature) in Twilight but implies that the inherent horror correlates with the community’s willfully blind. In all three adaptations, locals essentially troll the main protagonist; they make him feel insignificant — the foundation for so many profound horror flicks.

The first adaptation, It Happened in Broad Daylight, often loses momentum because of its family-friendly score, whereas The Pledge is simply too bright with its color film stock. Twilight, however, forces the audience to consider the psychological horror felt by the protagonist, whether’s it through collapsing nature-themed visuals or claustrophobic car scenes. The detective can’t escape himself while being reminded about religion, routines and morals. This the same dilemma that plagues Brad Pitt’s Mills in Se7en (1995) and Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle in True Detective season 1 (2014).

Twilight Essay: Related — Soundtracks of Television: ‘The White Lotus’

Twilight Essay - 1990 György Fehér Movie Film

Twilight is a remarkable film with its loaded minimalism and spectacular formalism. For many young cinephiles, “slow cinema” might easily translate to long takes, static shots, non-professional actors and three-hour runtimes. But slow cinema is also about the eternity of nature and the little things that inspire people to fight or flee.

To me, Twilight seems most interested in clashing belief systems and the absence of change. Complacency can easily shift a community’s culture. Residents can settle into routines that work against their belief system. The complacent figures of Twilight and the other adaptations don’t necessarily create a monster with their collective behavior, but they certainly don’t mind if the Big Bad stays in the woods. Be gone, beast! Be gone. Abracadabra.

Twilight is screening at Film at Lincoln Center in New York City throughout April and May 2023.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.

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