Credit: IFFR
by Michael Sicinski Featured Film

Explanation for Everything — Gábor Reisz [IFFR ’24 Review]

February 8, 2024

Gábor Reisz’s latest film is Hungarian through and through, but despite that, it feels very much like a sanded-down Romanian one. In fact, some of the underlying themes in Explanation for Everything have been addressed with much more subtlety in Cristian Mungiu’s recent films, such as R.M.N. and especially Graduation. And if we try to take Explanation at its word, however ironic — that it offers insight that could potentially explain everything — it’s still the case that Reisz was beaten to the punch, and then some, by Radu Jude’s near-masterwork Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World. In light of this uncanny similarity in approach, it’s perhaps worth noting that the character who turns out to be the prime mover for Explanation’s primary conflict is Erika (Rebeka Hatházi), a journalist for a right-wing Hungarian newspaper who is herself Romanian.

Loping and digressive until it hits its one-way topical fast track, Explanation for Everything is the story of Ábel (Adonyi-Walsh Gáspár), a chucklehead high school senior preparing to take his final exams. We see him cramming, as well as interacting with Janka (Lilla Kizlinger), the classmate he pines for despite the fact she has pretty obviously got him in the friend zone. Discussions hint at Ábel having perhaps been caught up in an earlier conflict between his father György (veteran actor István Znamenák), a bitter architect who supports Viktor Orbán’s far-right Fidesz party, and Jakab (András Rusznák), Ábel’s lefty, manbun-sporting history teacher. While we never get any direct evidence that Jakab has it out for Ábel, the kid has an unspoken animosity for his instructor that is mostly apolitical. Janka has a crush on Jakab who, to his credit, spurns the lovelorn teen.

One gets the sense that Reisz is attempting to make sure all the human chess pieces are on the board and recognizable before setting off the film’s central problem, and this accounts for an opening half-hour which is mostly scene-setting. But Explanation does not justify its bloated 150-minute runtime. That’s just as long as Jude’s film, but Jude uses the broad canvas of Do Not Expect Too Much to lay out various levels of social fractiousness in order to braid them into a kind of intersectional analysis. Reisz, by contrast, simplifies events until they come across like a New York Times op-ed demanding that we really, really listen to the MAGA crowd.

When Ábel puts on his suit jacket for his oral exam, it still has a ”patriot pin” showing the colors of the Hungarian flag. While these are broadly worn on March 15th, commemorating the 1848 revolution, wearing them at other times has been associated with the Fidesz movement. So when Jakab innocently expresses his observation that Ábel is wearing the pin, the boy uses this comment as a smoking gun, claiming that he failed his history exam because of Jakab’s liberal views.

If we give Reisz the benefit of the doubt, we could assume that the boiling down of all simmering class resentment to left-vs.-right politicking is itself the point, that these simplifications draw attention and sell newspapers, but ultimately obscure more than they illuminate. However, Explanation is not an equal opportunity satire. While György is a grumpy blowhard, he is shown to be a fiercely devoted family man, where Jakab is so involved in his own projects (a half-assed documentary film, in particular) that he routinely ignores his wife (Eliza Sodró) and children. He is, as György calls him in the subtitles, a “libtard,” someone who forms his identity through political affiliation but has very little in the way of character or compassion. But that’s not to suggest that Explanation for Everything is politically biased. It’s just rather half-assed, with Reisz taking the longest possible route to travel the shortest intellectual distance.

Published as part of IFFR 2024 — Dispatch 3.