- György Kurtág—The Matchstick Man and Peter Eötvös—The Seventh Door
Halfway through The Seventh Door, Pierre Boulez off-handedly remarks that "Hungarians are the best export in the world." It seems an odd comment, until you stop to consider the disproportionate impact musicians from this small Eastern European nation have had throughout Western Europe on music since 1945. This addition to Idéale Audience International's Juxtapositions series features Hungarian ﬁlmmaker Judit Kele exploring two of these "exports," György Kurtág and Peter Eötvös, delving into their distinct musical universes to craft portraits of the composers at work [End Page 675] and helping us discover why Hungary has played such an important role in deﬁning Europe's contemporary musical culture.
The Juxtapositions series seeks to understand music by combining it with ﬁlm and observing what the synthesis can tell us about each medium. Some releases, such as Frank Scheffer's probing The Final Chorale, focus on individual pieces of music. Others, such as Dorian Supin's 24 Preludes for a Fugue about Arvo Pärt and Eric Darmon's appropriately titled Looking Glass about Philip Glass, document their subject's lives by using music as the structure, the glue that holds the ﬁlms together. In her ﬁlms, Kele takes the second approach, offering slices of György Kurtág's and Peter Eötvös's lives and splicing them together in ways that hopefully illuminate rather than obfuscate their aesthetics. Her method works beautifully in her portrait of Eötvös, but only adds to the enigmatic aura that surrounds Kurtág.
Filmed in 1996, The Matchstick Man was Kele's ﬁrst documentary, and in her notes accompanying the ﬁlm, she candidly remarks that Kurtág was hesitant about the project. As a result, she ﬁrst developed a ﬁctional story, a template from which to shoot. Although almost nothing remains of this original story, save for an awkward recreation of a moment from Kurtág's childhood, that initial idea must have colored her approach. The result is a ﬁlm that talks about Kurtág and his music, but rarely delves under the surface into his motivations and desires. Kele appears throughout the ﬁlm as a detective, interviewing composers and performers associated with Kurtág and ﬁlming the composer at rehearsals, but her subject remains a mystery.
This is not to say that the ﬁlm is not beautifully shot nor lacks exquisite moments. The ﬁlm's emotional center is a rehearsal of Samuel Beckett: What is the Word, op. 30b. Kurtág wrote the work for Ildikó Monyók, a Hungarian actress who lost the ability to speak in an automobile accident. Using Beckett's poem, Kurtág musically reenacted the process Monyók underwent to learn to speak again. Their rehearsal is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time and reminds the viewer of music's visceral power. It is worth watching the ﬁlm for that moment alone.
Where we leave The Matchstick Man with a new appreciation for Kurtág's music but few insights into his personality, The Seventh Door allows us startlingly direct glimpses into both Peter Eötvös's music and life. Eötvös was reportedly open to this project, and his participation merged with the musical and ﬁlmic structure to create a nuanced portrait of the man and the composer.
Kele connected Eötvös to his Hungarian heritage by using Bartók's opera A Kékszakállú herceg vára (Bluebeard's Castle) as both metaphor and organizational structure. The ﬁlm opens and closes with images of Eötvös conducting Bluebeard's Castle, and Kele moves the ﬁlm through seven "doors," each focusing on an inﬂuence, a work, or an aesthetic ideal the composer holds. From the big bang theory's inﬂuence on his earliest work Kosmos, through his conducting career, and on to more recent operatic works like Drei Schwestern...