Curtiz (2019)
Curtiz (2019)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 38 min.

Release Date: April 5th, 2019 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Tamas Yvan Topolanszky Actors: Ferenc Lengyel, Evelin Dobos, Nikolett Barabas, Declan Hannigan, Yan Feldman, Rafael Feldman, Scott Alexander Young, Andrew Hefler

 


 

T

he year is 1941, and the United States has just been attacked by Japan. The country is reeling, but Jack L. Warner (Andrew Hefler) is concerned only with what it means for the motion picture industry; the number of films they can release has already dropped all the way down to just 20. Hal B. Wallis (Scott Alexander Young) is pitching his latest production, which is scheduled to begin shooting in 22 days, but no one is terribly amused by the wartime premise, full of questionable characters with questionable allegiances and questionable nationalities. And skirt-chasing Hungarian director Michael Curtiz (Ferenc Lengyel) isn’t giving the executives any additional confidence. They immediately want to change the title, and they’re motivated too heavily by potential Oscars, which are rarely awarded to war pictures.

Bravery, desire, love, loyalty, sacrifice, hope; these themes crop up during discussions about what should be included in Curtiz’s project, though it’s up to the director himself to secure a hit. He’s not interested in making propaganda or political statements; he’s focused on entertainment. As 1942 rolls around, the sets for “Casablanca” start to come together, along with a few background roles. Curiously, Curtiz isn’t in charge of the script, though he advises the writers (the Epstein brothers, played by Yan and Rafael Feldman); they present major plot points, he approves or vetoes them. In many ways, he’s just an editor, not actually devising the elements that would go on to become a masterpiece, but supervising the geniuses behind the scenes. Frequently, he doesn’t even seem all that engrossed in the project. “I’m not much of a writer,” he keeps insisting.

Shot in black-and-white, as if that automatically imparts an authenticity that couldn’t be achieved with color, “Curtiz” utilizes several technical decisions to such an unsubtle degree that they only detract from the overall style. Soft jazz loiters in the background (or pops up at terribly peculiar times, such as seconds after an attempted rape), while obnoxious camera movements substitute for effective uniqueness. During an early dinner-and-drinks conversation, the camera circles the table for what feels like a dozen times, almost laughably overtaking the scene. Later, lengthy, unbroken shots are favored, again accompanied by loud jazz, as if “Curtiz” is trying to be a musical. The one reasonable gimmick is to keep Bogart and Bergman in the background or foreground and blurred, so that audiences don’t have an opportunity to dwell on any impersonation shortcomings.

“Curtiz” is inspired by actual events, though the filmmakers feel the need to unequivocally state that some of the characters, names, businesses, incidents, and even locations have been fictionalized for dramatization purposes. “He’s a ruthless son-of-a-bitch,” proclaims the piano player, who sums up the titular role’s portrayal; there’s no tiptoeing around his womanizing, casting-couch abuse, coarse attitude toward peers, and irascible personality. Everyone around him is an enemy or an obstacle; little genuine collaboration exists. Subordinates tend to just absorb Curtiz’s yelling and insults. When he insists upon 19 takes to get a shot, executives are up in arms; they need the picture to be released as soon as possible, while the subject matter is still timely. This humorously results in scenes being shot with no discrete idea of what’s supposed to happen.

“Will someone tell me how this goddamn film ends!” Curiously, the film isn’t altogether interested in dramatizing the making of “Casablanca.” A major subplot (or, rather, the main plot) highlights Curtiz’s estranged relationship with his daughter, Kitty (Evelin Dobos), who hangs around the sets and strikes up her own romance (or tries to fend off the aggressive advances of studio man Johnson [Declan Hannigan]). Her goal is to get some answers from her father about his distaste for familial traditions – such as being around his family. During one heart-to-heart moment, as Kitty demands to know why he’s put such a drastic distance between them, recognizable notes of “As Time Goes By” plays in the background, which is ludicrously unfitting. Meanwhile, the themes of patriotism and tribalism course through the supporting roles, shaping not only who works on the picture, but also who influences the storytelling (and how specific loyalties shape the script). At the end of it all, despite a few amusing, anecdotal pieces of comedy (as well as some bleak and authentic views of Hollywood happenings), the characters are so disagreeable and unlikeable that viewers won’t care if everyone makes up, finds success, or murders one another.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10