Review: “Twilight” (1990)

Hungarian filmmaker György Fehér’s 1990 noir Twilight (Szürkület), loosely based on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1958 novel The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel, is a film that’s been so rarely seen, there isn’t even an existing Wikipedia article about it, and the press release announcing its new 4K restoration wasted no time drawing a comparison to another, much more recognizable movie of the same name, with a subject line declaring “Twilight (Not That One).” But that restoration by the National Film Institute, supervised by the movie’s cinematographer Miklós Gurbán and which is rolling out in theaters nationwide right now, will hopefully bring Twilight some long overdue attention. And it deserves it. Twilight is a slippery movie, one that evokes the feeling of reaching for something just beyond your grasp but never quite being able to get to it, but it’s hypnotic all the time, probing about existential questions of man versus nature, obsession, and the futility of it all.

Péter Haumann leads Twilight’s miniscule cast as Felügyelõ, a police inspector tasked with investigating a serial killer loose in a small rural town. Nicknamed The Giant, the killers victims include three young girls, their bodies discovered in the vast stretch of forest nearby. Felügyelõ becomes increasingly obsessed with finding the murderer, especially after his primary suspect falls through.

Detectives becoming so consumed by their cases that they begin drifting into questionable moral and ethical territory is nothing new. The basic storyline has been a staple of the crime thriller since its beginnings, and has been interpreted by filmmakers from all over the world, from the definitive classic Hollywood noir Out of the Past to Bong Joon-Ho’s Memories of Murder to, more recently, Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave. Noir has always been a genre that has largely prioritized vibes over plot, but the latter is particularly nebulous in Twilight, with its sparse dialogue and unhurried pacing. The film opens with the camera hovering high above the expansive forest, and similar, lengthy sequences are interspersed throughout the movie. As the camera pans across the landscape, accompanied by the haunting and mournful vocals of László Vidovszky, Fehér effectively conjures a sense of dread that settles in the viewer and never leaves throughout Twilight’s runtime. Whoever the killer is, the woods where these dreadful events take place in—where children disappear and men teeter on the brink of madness—feel every bit as threatening.

Twilight is also strikingly shot in black-and-white, although not the high-contrast sort that results in stark shadows and highlights. Fehér and Gurbán pull many shades of grey out of the environment, and the effect is especially noticeable in those long shots, granting the film a misty layer that only enhances its mystery. Fehér, a frequent collaborator of filmmaker Béla Tarr, only directed one other feature film of his own, and based on his work here alone, that’s really a shame. As much as Twilight tiptoes around reaching some profound meaning, while being too elusive to get there beyond suggestion, it’s a mesmerizing, disturbing, and fascinating piece of cinema that’s been left by the wayside for far too long.

Twilight will screen at the Webster University Film Series May 24 and 25, and is playing in select theaters nationwide. Runtime: 105 minutes.

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