Color, 1979, 101m.
Directed by István Szabó
Starring Ildikó Bánsági, Péter Andorai, Oszkárné Gombik, Károly Csáki
Second Run (DVD) (UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Two years before causing an international splash with his Best Foreign Film Oscar-winning film Mephisto, Hungarian director István Szabó took a very different and equally effective look at life under the threat of Naziism in Confidence. Despite also getting a nomination at least in the same category, that film inexplicably fell into neglect for decades, never seeing a home video release of any kind until its Second Run release in the UK. That just goes to show how arbitrary the film gods can be, as this is in every way as worthy as the director's more famous films, which later included such productions as Colonel Redl, Meeting Venus, Sunshine, and Being Julia.
In Budapest during the final summer of World War II, married couple János (Szabó regular Andorai) and Kata (Bánsági) aren't quite what they seem. In fact, they've only recently met and are both different kinds of members of the resistance, now forced underground and living as spouses to avoid discovery. Meanwhile their real families are disconnected, and as the oppressiveness and paranoia of their existence mounts, they find themselves torn between their shaky, deceptive circumstances of their lives and the need to find some kind of permanence with or without their loved ones.
Sort of a psychological thriller in the most literal sense, Confidence is a constantly shifting, visually chilly, and almost eerie character-driven drama, driven by two extremely committed central performances (including some little erotic grace notes you probably wouldn't expect to see in a film like this). It's a difficult film to discuss rather than experience, but the director keeps it all under firm control and guides everything to a subdued but intensely powerful final two scenes whose power lingers well after the end of the film. Why this has been so ignored is anyone's guess, but it's a gem waiting to be rediscovered now that people can actually see it.
In keeping with most of its releases, Second Run's DVD is a remarkably fresh-looking new transfer with nary a nick or scratch in view, and it's lovingly well-compressed to let the dark, shadowy scenes work their full magic. It's a gorgeous release and about as good as PAL standard def can look for a film with this kind of delicate lighting. The optional English subtitles are excellent as well.
The sole video extra - and it's a good one - is a video interview with the director, apparently prepared originally to accompany a screening on Turner Classic Movies. It's more of a general overview of his entire career than a spotlight on one particular film, with some of the better-known titles getting most of the discussion time. More specific to this film is the liner notes booklet, written by film professor and programmer Catherine Portuges. She does an effective job of sketching out the origins of the project and how its filmic language balances the historical setting, with a look at how real-life Budapest during the period compared with the intimate but powerful version seen in the film itself.