“The Abel Trem Affair”: in Hungary, a student at the center of a political-media scandal

The Teachers’ Room , by Ilker Çatak, No Waves , by Teddy Lussi-Modeste, Amal (released April 17), by Jawad Rhalib… Like these three films, in theaters this year, whose action takes place in middle or high school, The Abel Trem Affair , by Hungarian director Gabor Reisz, features a teacher caught in a spiral after being wrongly accused by a student. In this case, for having sanctioned him for his political ideas.

This coincidence of outings says a lot about the questioning of teaching words and questions the relationship that society has with the words of victims when they are linked to burning subjects (sexual assault, racism, politics), which is why it must add the sounding board of social networks.

So here is the plot. In Budapest, Abel Trem (Gaspar Adonyi-Walsh), 18, takes the oral exam for the baccalaureate and fails on two questions… The industrial revolution in the modern era? It doesn’t mean anything to him. Julius Caesar ? Neither. To begin the dialogue, Jakab (Andras Rusznak), his history teacher, points to the cockade hanging on the lapel of the high school student’s jacket – traditionally worn on the occasion of the anniversary of the War of Independence of 1848, but increasingly symbolizing Fidesz, the national-conservative party in power of Viktor Orban. Failed, Abel decides to lie to his parents about the reasons for his failure, claiming to have been penalized because of his pin, and triggers, despite himself, a political-media scandal led by a young journalist.

Awarded the Orizzonti Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2023, Gabor Reisz’s third film, produced without any state funding, recalls the country’s political divide and the aggressiveness between supporters of the left and the right . While the film refrains from deciding, despite the violent anti-migrant policy and the contempt for the rights of LGBT people on the part of Fidesz, it describes a tense face-to-face between Abel’s father, a building contractor annoyed by seeing young people leaving for Western Europe, and the left-wing professor.

Multiplication of perspectives

Built in ten chapters like so many chronicles, the film proceeds with impressionistic touches with a taste for the comedy of domestic details. In the crossovers between Abel’s home and that of Jakab, to which are added the small nests of the secondary characters, we can see the intention to weave a complex narrative structure. However, this multiplication of perspectives tends to lead us astray. You have to wait a good half hour before witnessing the oral exam fiasco.

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