From the sensous enchantment of "Sindbad" to the grainy psychorealism of "Confidence," the Hungarian film festival at the American Film Institute ranges the span of human passions and cinematic techniques.
"Sindbad" is a loose-leaf notebook of an autobiography by Gyula Krudy, a journalist acclaimed as the Hungarian Proust. The hero Sindbad is a dashing and melancholy traveler of no occupation other than "gentleman." He is a collector of memories and illusions, pretty lies and, above all, beautiful women. His time is the second half of the l9th century, which ranks as an opulent, decadent interval of peace in Central Europe, the birthplace of two world wars.
The film "Sindbad," directed by Zoltan Huszarik and originally released in 1972, is a series of tableaux vivantes that recalls Toulouse-Lautrec: a whorehouse with velvet wallpaper, potted plants and sumptious couches; a couple in elegant furs waltzing on skates on a frozen river, with rising mist and stately pines as the backdrop; world-weary rogues drinking from etched goblets, leaning on marble tabletops; females of all ages and classes and states of undress observing life from behind the lace curtains of provincial houses.
Sindbad wears a soft beige hat and a glittering silk waistcoat. His women are sheathed in brocade and lace, and their hats are fantasies of bows and ruffles, roses and tulle. The reigning colors are scarlet and purple; even the smoke from the chimneys is lavender.
The lines are poetic but the English subtitles are banal. The acting is undistinguished. But the film is a triumph for cinematographer Sandor Sara: the translation of a literary masterpiece into images.
In contrast to the orgiastic celebration of color and texture in "Sindbad," Istvan Szabo's film "Confidence," released in 1979, is a stark, pitiless exploration of the paradoxes of wartime love and hate.
The hero Janos is in the anti-Nazi resistance -- a pathologically suspicious leftist revolutionary, tough to the point of sadism. Kata, the bourgeois and childish wife of another resistance leader, is obliged to pose as Janos' wife. Together they hide out in a suburban house, first mutually hostile, later as lovers. But as the war ends, so does their "holiday romance."
"Confidence" is a powerful story, well- acted and ably directed, with characters and episodes that are stamped with the force of eyewitness conviction.
An American viewer is likely to have problems filling in the historical details essential to understanding the film, and the dialogue is often more loftily philosophical than natural. Some of the conflicts represent ideological civil wars critical in that part of the world; and hints to their meanings are ever so indirect. But these and other quirks of "Confidence" -- as well as "Sindbad" and the other six Hungarian imports at the festival -- add up to an exotic trip into another culture's nightmares and fantasies. NEW HUNGARIAN CINEMA -- "Sindbad": Friday at 9, Sunday at 2; "Confidence": Saturday at 7, Monday at 9. "A Very Moral Night": Sunday at 4; "Blatin Fabian Meets God": Sunday at 8:15; "A Priceless Day": Friday at 7, Saturday at 9:15; "Stories from the Recent Past": Saturday at 5, Sunday at 6; "Csontvary": Monday at 7. For information, call 828-4098.