An overtly political return to his Hungarian roots following the previous year's foray into international co-production with Meeting Venus, Istvan Szabo gave us a decidedly bleak and deeply personal insight into his country's day-to-day post-communist existence, a seeming political free-for-all captured in microcosm at a Budapest school.
Cue lovely, doomed performances from Ter Steege and Borcsak as gentle waif Emma and silly clod Bobe respectively, a couple of country girls trained as Russian teachers who find themselves struggling to learn English and avoid the political brickbats hurled by their bickering colleagues. Unable to afford a flat, the pair share a room in a teachers' hostel, where Bobe bonks a number of foreigners and dreams of marrying well, while Emma ponders illicit love with her married headmaster (Andorai) and still believes in collectivity and a good community.
When Bobe is arrested for prostitution, however, Emma must snitch on her chum, as events inevitably take a tragic turn for the worse. Filmed with only too ghastly realism and loaded with painful post-communist angst, Szabo's story is a thoroughly grin affair that doesn't so much throb with life as gasp for every last breath.
Undoubtedly of cultural importance this is unfortunately also so culturally specific that it's hard to imagine it going down well with anyone other than Szabo fanatics and diehard fans of Eastern European cinema.