Genre: Comedy • Drama
Director: Ildikó Enyedi
Starring: Dorota Segda, Oleg Yankovskiy, Paulus Manker, Peter Andorai, Gabor Mate
Duration: 102 min.
At the dawn of the 20th Century, long separated identical twins Dora and Lili ride the Orient Express unaware of each other: one a feminist anarchist, the other a hedonistic courtesan, both living under the powder-keg Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. In 1900, technology was accelerating, could women's rights and national self-determination keep pace?
My 20th Century is Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi's debut feature film. It won her the Camera d'Or award at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival for best first film. It was also selected in 2000 to the Budapest 12 as one of the twelve best Hungarian films.
This one's a fascinating and bewildering film that uses surreal imagery and multiple narratives, some related, others not so much, to paint a portrait of Hungary at the dawn of the 20th Century, a time of rapid technological advancement. This experimental story begins with the birth of twin girls Dora and Lili, born to Anya (played by the lovely Dorota Segda, who also handles the roles of both Dora and Lili as adults). Their birth in Budapest is shown to coincide with the unveiling of Edison's incandescent light bulb half way around the world in New Jersey.
What follows is a series of beautifully shot sequences, made to look like a film from 1889 not 1989, but betrayed somewhat by the entirely random nature of them. Such as the puzzling scenes involving a dog wearing wires on its head running free, and a caged chimpanzee telling the story of his capture. The core story of Dora and Lili holds the film together. Orphaned and separated at an early age, they go on to lead vastly different lives. Dora becomes a sexy well off courtesan traveling the world and liberating unsuspecting men of their money, while Lili ends up as a prim and modest looking young terrorist revolutionary with a mission to blow up the ministry of interior.
Polish actress Dorota Segda sparkles in the dual roles but there isn't enough coherence or development to really connect with these characters, and at first glance it's hard to see this as more than a collection of pretty pictures. Also my viewing experience was hampered by a rather shoddy copy of the film, one that does no justice to the amazing cinematography with ugly blocky subtitles that frequently obscure large parts of the screen.
My 20th Century is one of those films like The Tree of Life that I think takes more than a single viewing to digest. Hopefully this one gets restored and released on a DVD or Blu-Ray soon, there are some very astonishing images within, and I would love to see them again with a better quality.
— Bonjour Tristesse