Remember how widely accepted it once was that crime and poverty had something to do with social circumstance and accident of birth? If you’ve forgotten this after 30 or 40 years of political rhetoric that claims these ills are the result of personal immorality and laziness, you might want to look at Hungarian director Marcell Gerö’s quietly disturbing 2014 documentary Cain’s Children.
Gerö tracks down the three middle-aged men who once appeared as teenagers in the classic 1985 film Bebukottak by András Monory-Mész, which interviewed them as inmates of the detention centre where each was doing time for murder. Grainy excerpts of that earlier work show up from time to time here, as their child selves describe the the flashes of bloodshed that turned their lives to shit: the fragile-seeming Páli, who confesses to having shot his father in the head one afternoon; the tentatively self-assured József, killer of a reform-school teacher; and the nervous, smiling Zsolt, who stabbed a schoolmate to death in a drunken struggle.
Thirty years later, all three are still spinning through the penal and psychiatric mills as they grope for anything resembling stability and family. Over the unearthly piano of Dominique Gadmer’s score, Cain’s Children unfolds by showing us more and more of the blight they inhabit: the mouldy, bruised farmhouses, the squats and sterile wards. More to the point, it slowly reveals their morbid domestic backgrounds, where broken parents handed chaos down to broken offspring.
How matter-of-factly they weigh their shame and guilt, as they seek out love to lighten the burden, is stunning. And Zsolt’s calm dissection of his country—ruled, he says, by a strain of capitalism that favours wealth above all and discards the poor as garbage—makes it hard to meet his fluttering, prescription-drugged gaze.
Cinematheque, May 9 (6:30 p.m.)