His Master's Voice – And What About Stanislaw Lem?

On September 18, the 6th Hungarian film festival CIFRA started in Moscow. It was opened by György Pálfii's film His Master's Voice (2018).

by Sandra Kuznetsova


György Pálfi is probably the second filmmaker in the top of Hungarian directors after Cornel Mundruczo. His first film Hukkle (2002) immediately attracted attention for its outrageousness – there are almost no words in the film, but everything is relatively clear. The director himself suggests that you take the film as a game and watch it with someone to compare your assumptions if necessary. His next film was Taxidermia (2006) which I would not recommend watching for those who are averse to body horror, although this film is more of a family drama. At the CIFRA festival Pálfi is a longtime guest – he participated in the very first festival in 2015 with the film Free Fall ("Szabadesés", 2014).

Pálfi's new film is quite different from the previous ones. It's almost a "normal" movie. Even people unfamiliar with the director's specific style can watch it. Unpleasant moments there are minimum and they do not even compare with what is usually considered "unpleasant" in his works.

It is stated that this is a film adaptation of the novel of the same name by the Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, but in fact it's only the idea that remains from the novel. The book is a memoir of the mathematician, professor Peter Hogarth, who was involved in a secret Pentagon project conducted in the Nevada desert, where scientists worked to decode what looked like a signal sent from deep space. The book contains many arguments at the intersection of cosmology and philosophy; it is more a monologue of reasoning than a novel with a plot.
Pálfi invents a family drama for this scientist.
In the film, he is a Hungarian who leaves his wife and two children and goes to the United States during the Iron curtain to work. Almost 30 years later, one of his sons, Peter (the main character of the film), goes in search of him. It turns out to be a detective story with a well-chosen musical accompaniment that highlights the plot twists as Peter approaches the solution.
If Pálfi had stopped there, it would have been a work that bore little relation to Lem's novel, but has its own artistic significance. Although the copyright would still have to be paid at first by the Stanislaw Lem Foundation and then by one of the Hollywood producers who bought the rights after the commercial success of Steven Soderbergh's Solaris (2002).
However, Pálfi apparently decided to pay homage to the rest of Lem's works and made insertions from another novel «Fiasco». This additional storyline, firstly , creates confusion, and secondly, is too short to be of value. This has nothing to do with the main plot, but the same actors play there.
The fact that the director moved away from his usual absurd black comedy style did not affect the work well. However, the film is kaleidoscopic, which definitely makes it diverse, as it contains a lot of staged shots, shooting with 8, 16 and 35mm film, the video of bad quality, digital and TV shooting, Skype, Google maps and other screenshots. The film was collected literally in pieces and for the most part it was a forced measure. The installation took almost two years due to ill-conceived filming and problems with shooting permits in America. The director made a 17-episode series based on the finished and remaining materials. The final editing may be ready by December. If they fail to sell the series to streaming services, it will be uploaded one episode per week to YouTube.
In general, this film did not take place either as an adaptation of Lem, or as one of the films of the Pálfi style.
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