Friday, December 21, 2007

Inhospitable District

I tend to post favorable reviews because there does not seem to be much point in telling people not to buy CDs they have never heard of, or not to go to films that might not even play in their cities. However, since Aron Gauder’s animated Hungarian Hip Hop film The District has generated some strong notices and its run at the Two Boots Pioneer overlaps with the opening of the far superior Persepolis, it seems appropriate to quickly review the one in light of the other.

Stylistically, The District is quite remarkable. Its breakneck animation is consistently inventive. It’s the substance that is the problem. There is a clever plot device involving Romany ancestors and oil reserves under the eponymous neighborhood of Hungary. However, everything that follows is quite predictable. Old rival become fast friends until the reserves run out. The dark cabal of Bush, Blair, and company become threatened by Hungary’s new oil wealth (the audience’s obviously forced Pavlovian laughter at the Bush jokes were particularly embarrassing). Even the film’s punch line involving the object of our protagonist’s affections has been seen before.

By contrast, even if one did not know the events of Persepolis were largely based on a true story, their dramatic importance would still resonate. Persepolis is about family at its core, featuring well drawn (literally and figuratively) characters. The District by contrast, is wholly inhabited by stock figures. Persepolis illustrates how families continue to love, even when the world around them has gone mad. The District presents an unflaggingly cynical world, in which sex is an impersonal act, and humanity has little place.

Billed as a Hungarian Hip Hop film, The District actually lacks any real sense of place, again in contrast to the post-Revolutionary Iran of Persepolis. The Hungarian Hip Hop is there, but it is not particularly memorable. Tremendous talent went into The District. The filmmakers should have gone back to the word processor instead of the drawing board, as the animation was not the problem. Indeed, one hopes Gauder and company will keep making films, as they show some real talent. They need a real story to work with though—hopefully one that does not revel in such unrepentant cynicism. The District plays at the Two Boots Pioneer through Christmas Day, which is when Persepolis opens. Adults looking for smart animation should hold out until the latter opens.