Veteran Hungarian filmmaker directed this 2005 art house film that blends political and social farce following the lives of two circus clowns against the backdrop of key 20th century Hungarian history. Naphthalene (Robert Koltai) and Dodo (Sandor Gaspar) run afoul of the local Communist Party when one of their jokes go awry. The elder brother, Dodo, takes the fall and lands in the gulag for the offense. Naphthalene becomes a prop man for a rural theater and inadvertently sets in motion events that will lead to the 1956 Hungarian revolution while also setting out to free his brother from the gulag with the help of an attractive young hitchhiker.
On a certain level, perhaps mostly in tone, Colossal Sensation
reminded me of Life is Beautiful
in the way that Koltai is able to adeptly integrate the suffocating Soviet occupation of Hungary without allowing the film itself to ever feel suffocating. He does this mostly by focusing much of Colossal Sensation
on the everyday realities of life rather than the all encompassing bigger pictures that surround the characters. The war is big, the Soviet occupation is big, being sentenced to a gulag is certain big, yet Koltai and co-writer Peter Horvath have created characters whose central focus is merely using whatever skills they possess to survive for yet another day.
The relationship between Dodo and Naphthalene is paramount to the success of the film, and much like these relationships are often portrayed, one is the stronger and one is the weaker of the siblings. An early childhood accident has left Naphtalene with a limp, and Dodo assumes a lifelong protector role in their lives that even carries itself to a planned honeymoon when Dodo is to wed - Naphthalene will not be left behind.
Camera work by D.P. Balazs Marton is quite beautiful, switching between black-and-white and color as the tone of the film itself switches, while the original music from Laszlo Des is an engaging blend of comedic highs and lows.
While one might consider this one of Koltai's lesser cinematic endeavors, Koltai is one of those directors for whom even a lesser work surpasses much of what Hollywood has to offer. At times, Colossal Sensation
harkens back to an earlier era of cinema when physicality was of utmost importance. Colossal Sensation
is not nearly an equal to the nearly miraculous Life is Beautiful,
but one might be able to argue that Koltai is aiming less for greatness here and more for simplicity.
Winner of the Chicago EU Film Festival's Audience Award and the Film Cultural Award from the Lagow Film Festival, Colossal Sensation
is a simple, charming film and sometimes that's quite enough. For more information on the film, visit the Facets Video website
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic