My 20th Century review – tales of an adventuress and an anarchist | World cinema

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Hungarian film-maker Ildikó Enyedi won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival last year with On Body and Soul, and now UK audiences get the chance to see her debut feature, which was an award-winner at Cannes 30 years ago. My 20th Century is a jeu d’ésprit, a whimsical erotic fantasia of central Europe, a millennial meditation on modernity, all in black-and-white and infused with the spirit of early cinema, with distinct touches of Buster Keaton and a playful attitude to sex, comparable to Milan Kundera.

Polish actor Dorota Segda plays two twins, Dora and Lili, who suffered grinding poverty as little girls and sold matches in the streets. Then they were stolen by two sinister top-hatted gentlemen, separated, and after childhoods of abuse that we can only guess at, are reunited by fate in the year 1900. Dora is now what is quaintly called an adventuress, scamming besotted rich men out of their money, which we see her attempting as a passenger on the Orient Express. Lili is a passionate idealist, feminist and anarchist who is preparing to assassinate a politician in Budapest.

A gentleman called Z (Oleg Yankovsky) falls in love with Lili; she rejects him; then he runs into Dora, thinking she is the same woman. They have sex, after which Dora steals all the money in his wallet, and after that, Z re-encounters Lili, who is repentant for having rejected him, not for stealing his money as the duped Z assumes. It is a weird, surreal farce and a parable for … what? Are Dora and Lili emblems of capitalism and communism, the two great intertwined creeds of the 20th century? Perhaps. The action of the movie is wittily topped and tailed with mysterious scenes featuring Thomas Edison, the inventor of electric light and arguably the father of modernity as we know it: his artificial light, now as commonplace to us as water from the mains, was then a delicious exotic novelty and a deliriously exciting message from the future.

An elegant midsummer, end-century night’s dream of a film, with an elusive, gossamer lightness.

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Source: The Guardian
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