Yes, Giancarlo Giannini actually appeared in a film directed, edited, and co-written by Tinto Brass, and although it has blatantly erotic content, Snack Bar Budapest is part of a cluster of his last great work, made in collaboration with producer Giovanni Bertolucci before moving into smaller-scaled softcore work pretty much aimed at the home video market.
Although it shares tragic elements similar to The Key (1983) - the loss of a great love deeply affects a leading character - and both films were derived from novels, Budapest is a peculiar fusion of a classic Warner Bros. crime film, Brassian erotica, and a little homage to Blade Runner (1982).
Giannini plays a corrupt lawyer who ferries the woman he loves (Milena) to a coastal clinic to end and unwanted pregnancy. As she spends the night in the recovery ward after an abortion procedure, the is billeted in a hotel run by a small Hungarian family (hence the title), and during a wander through town he encounters a local thug - Molecola (François Négret) - a kind of Little Caesar [M] who dreams of turning the town he controls into a grand Riviera. His tactics of persuasion are highly lowbrow - physically threaten and destroy commercial properties until the owners sell their establishment for a song - but they’re effective maneuvers, and for a short while the lawyer believes in the magical optimism of his new friend.
During a coke-filled party for Molecola's arriving associate, the lawyer wakes up from a heady daze and recognizes the punk’s unwavering cruelty which can only destroy lives, including the hotel’s family of three whom the lawyer once defended in a smuggling case for an unsympathetic judge (Tinto Brass in a cameo).
By defending their home & business from Molecola’s gang (which includes a stable of prostitutes capable of some fancy shooting below, under, and close to the environs of their crotches), the lawyer enrages the Little Caesar, and triggers a fiery (and homoerotic) jealousy, and a series of tragic events.
As grievous as the story sounds, Budapest is filled with many absurd moments, and a rather brilliant repartee between the lead characters. Even when the dialogue qualifies as clinically vulgar, it still functions to set up progressive conflicts, especially when lawyer moves from a trusted member of Molecola’s entourage to a defender of local nobodies.
The dialogue doesn't make those graphic crotch shots of a post-op Milena any less wrong, but there's an ongoing ridiculousness to Brass' framing – splayed legs and maximum beaver exposure – not to mention his roving macro lens. Even the shootout at the hotel has he trembling mother and daughter under the kitchen table angled across the slightly wide frame so as to display legs, undergarments (or lack of), and bottoms. No matter how gratuitous a few American directors have been with their own indulgences – Renny Harlin’s cleavage and tight bottomed characters in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990), or Neveldine / Taylor’s ridiculously ass-centric Gamer (2009) – they can’t capture the full cinematic lunacy of interpolating bum-bums in such a celebratory manner.
Budapest also works as a genre satire - Molecola wears an eighties-coloured zoot-suit and wraparound sunglasses, whereas the lawyer resembles the trench-coated Harrison Ford in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner – and the film's look is a great blend of ornate Art Nouveau patterns and architecture with Brass' requisite phallic door and curbed window arches, as photographed in a cool glassy blue colours. Even Zucchero's song and instrumental theme score offers a little style, although alongside the costumes - Giannini's coat excepted - they are quite dated (although much less so than Brass’ All the Ladies Do It).
Part of the dating stems from Brass' own sense of erotic wardrobe - it's a weird hybrid of sleazy eighties clothes with retro fifties characteristics - and it doesn't help that all of the women are prostitutes / loose women; even the hotelier's wife offers her barely legal daughter to the lawyer in the hope he won't betray them to Molecola's henchmen.
The strange thing about Budapest is that in being rooted to specific genres, Brass shows he’s not out of his league; he’s wholly adept in staging and choreographing action scenes, especially the climactic shootout at the hotel, and the film maintains a brisk momentum in spite of the wafting between erotic interludes, generic riffs, and genuine tragedy. Yet Brass never sits too long on a sad moment, nor the direness of being peppered to death by Molecola’s gang. In addition to gun-toting / ever-posing hookers, the men trot out the cadaver of their college like a scene from Weekend at Bernie's (1989). Moreover, while perhaps only obvious to the trained Brassian eye, there are some stealth references to sex organs, such as the tiles which line the street in front of the hotel: they're all Art Nouveau delta patterns.
Fans expecting a standard assembly of naughty scenarios where men and women teach each other lessons in needs, jealousies, passion, a sense of independence, and giving into impulses might be disappointed by the linear and emotionally epic drama in Budapest (at least for a Brass film); instead of an outright sex comedy, Brass finds his own balance between genres for this more than functional hybrid.
Budapest’s long overdue DVD release comes in this mediocre release. Although the menu is in stereo, the Italian film soundtrack that accompanies this non-anamorphic transfer is flat mono – likely a dub from an old home video transfer instead of the cleaner stereo versions released in Europe. Given this is one of his best late period works, Budapest is deserving of a proper HD release, ideally with a commentary or interview featurette with Brass, perhaps an interview with star Giannini, and an isolated score of Zucchero’s rare foray into film scoring.
Brass’ fruitful collaborations with producer Bertolucci include The Key (1983), Miranda (1985), Capriccio (1987), Snack Bar Budapest (1988), All Ladies Do It (1992), P.O. Box Tinto Brass (1995), Monella (1998), and Private [M] (2003).
© 2013 Mark R. Hasan