Judge Bill Gibron would love to frequent a snack bar offering this kind of "candy."
Send Lawyers, Guns, and Underage Hoodlums with Harems
A disbarred lawyer named Avvocato (Giancarlo Giannini, Hannibal—billed here as "Giancarlo Bertolucci") travels to a seaside town. He is there to make sure his girlfriend, Milena (Raffaella Baracchi, The Barbarians) gets a mandated abortion. After setting her up in the hospital, he checks into the local hovel known as the Snack Bar Budapest. There, he makes contact with his partner Sapo (Philippe Léotard, The French Connection II). Avvocato is told to look up a local gangster named Molecola (François Négret, Au Revoir Les Enfants) who will have a $10,000 payoff for him. Turns out, our mobster is just a teenager, engaged in a bit of land speculation while running the city's prostitutes. Instantly offering Avvocato a job in his "business," he takes our haggard hero on a whirlwind tour of drink, debauchery, and decadence. Sadly, when the owners of the Snack Bar won't sell, things turns from fun…to frightening…to fatal.
Like a far more lecherous Jean Renoir, Giovanni "Tinto" Brass was born into fame. His grandfather was the celebrated Italico Brass and many feel his filmmaking grandson carried on the family's aesthetic bent. Tinto—his stage name coming from a childhood nickname—got his start in the late 1950s, but came into full flower in the '70s, when films like La Vacanza and Salon Kitty established his reputation. Combining standard melodramatics with period piece precision and over the top stylistic choices, his films reflected both a contemporary whimsy and old school production value. After a horrible experience on the set of Caligula (he more or less "made" the movie and then had it taken away and recut by a "jealous" Bob Guccioni), he spent the rest of his career making small, sex-based efforts. Though always overflowing with stunning set designs and clever craftsmanship, these titles could often be tawdry, sleazy affairs.
Something like Snack Bar Budapest rests right in the middle of such a strategy. All around the story of an ex-lawyer seduced by the suggestion of easy money and an even easier life, Brass offers a bevy of Mediterranean beauties, almost all of which are seen semi to fully nude. Sequences revolve around pubic hair, breasts, rounded rear ends, and pouty, semi-parted lips. In Snack Bar Budapest, the women are not complicated. They are either comic relief or cause for concern. They are either innocence waiting to be corrupted or hardened harlots looking for love. While the men—especially Avvocato and Molecola—are given wide berth to be believable characters, the ladies they longue with are nothing but ersatz-erotic eye candy. Toward the end, when things go sour between the potential partners, the gunplay standoff becomes a Roman riff on Dolemite. That's right, as our men manipulate and hide, our gals grab guns and go gonzo.
Overall, Snack Bar Budapest is like a waking dream. It's Giannini looking downtrodden and slovenly while all around him Italy explodes in get rich quick possibilities. For his part, Brass ladles on the luxuries. There are times when the film feels like a cross between Blade Runner and a grunge version of Brazil. The use of neon emphasizes the gloom and glamour of the time, while the acting and compositions keep the story centered on the dilemmas between the players. One of the more interesting elements here is the work of young Negret, who turns Molecola into one terrifying adolescent. We know he is occasionally out of his league. More times than not, however, our wannabe casino owner is all too dangerous. Though the ending turns things a bit too contrived, the overall vibe of Snack Bar Budapest is like the last act of a dying man. Avvocato may survive his stint in this insular burgh, but the effect on who he is as a man and as a friend will never be the same.
For their part, Mya Communication should be commended for bringing this "lost classic" back to film fans worldwide. On the downside, the tech specs are on the low end of the DVD revolution. Anything full screen—or 4/3, 1.56:1—looks weird on a high def set-up, and the visual element remains a bit dark and underdeveloped. One assumes a remaster was not done, since the film has some dirt and minor scratches. The colors are muted with details equally fuzzy. Similarly, the Italian stereo mix is fine, if just a tad too direct. There's no ambience, no attempt at aural atmosphere. The dialogue can often get lost in the score, and the overall package seems geared toward completists, since the casual fan won't cotton to such low end elements. On a side note, the cover art claims there is a photo gallery included. Aside from the Menu choices for "Chapters," "Subtitles," and "Resuming Play," there is no indication of a gallery to be found.
With its weird combination of violence and vice, comedy and crotch shots, Snack Bar Budapest is a weird, wobbly work. Brass may have made better, but he probably didn't create anything more provocative or problematic.
Not Guilty. More good than baffling.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mya Communication
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