Directed by: Károly Eiles
Written by: Károly Eiles
Starring: Márton Fischer
Short Film Review by: Kirsty Asher
Empty City, a film by Hungarian filmmaker Károly Eiles aims to ask an ambitious cinematic question: what would your life be like if you were the only person left in a big city? It’s a concept which has previously been beautifully explored in post-apocalyptic cinema, but the vibe of this short film is decidedly more upbeat. The rich colour grading brings out summery yellows and blues, which coupled with the soundtrack gives it the feel of a Tropical House music video. It’s an interesting set-up, as it highlights the bustle of people in sped-up shots of Budapest, and it gives the film the glowing air of a fanciful daydream. The sole actor Márton Fischer is present and efficient in his physical performance, although he has no spoken dialogue and is heard only in voice-over. The script is interesting and well-written; I particularly liked how one of his first ideas of living in an empty city would be to take a pastry from a cafe but still feel the need to leave some money.
The main issue with a big idea such as this in indie cinema is the restriction of budget and resources, so the chance to gain shots of wide, empty urban vistas and capture a real sense of solitude is slightly lost here. Lacking the ability to cordon off areas or film in empty establishments means there are a couple of background shots of people in scenes where the city is meant to be deserted, and it slightly ruins the effect. There are some attempts to create a visually elaborate idea of the boy’s imaginary freewill with a CGI shot of him dive-bombing the city’s river from a bridge and his decision to play his video game on a huge screen in a plaza. While amusing, my particular issue with the ‘what-if’ scenes is that they aren’t particularly imaginative in their content – why, when this boy could do anything he wished in complete solitude, would he still spend his time on everyday habits like video games, or going to the gym? It comes across as restrictive and as a missed opportunity to create more beguiling shots. Larger locations might be hard to manage on a small budget, but there are ways of handling a big concept such as this through small-scale images that take a deeper look at isolation and solitude.
The way the editing and cinematography seemed to change style very abruptly was slightly confusing. The opening scene of Empty City had wide-angle symmetry and longer shots, but was then replaced by fast zooms and punchy editing more reminiscent of a music video. Nevertheless, the visuals of Budapest were well selected and well shot. It’s clear that Eiles is a proficient editor, and it was a fairly good attempt at exploring an interesting story.