Live Music at Jewish Film Festival | 19 July 2000

San Francisco Chronicle | Jesse Hamlin | review | 19 July 2000 | English

Elegiac Music with
“Free Fall Oratorio”


Then there’s “Free FallOratorio”. It’s based on the idyllic home movies of a Hungarian Jewishfiddler and shop owner named György Petö, filmed in the late 1930sand ’40s when Hungary’s “jewish laws” became increasingly oppressive.Director Péter Forgács will narrate the film while composer Tibor Szemzőand two singers perform parts of the score live with the taped soundtrack.
Forgács got the films-intimate images of Petö’s fiancee and future wife, Eva, family and friends at the beach, birthday parties, and boating on the Tisza River- from Petö’s daughter after the musician’s death. Forgács framed them with newsreel footage showing the dark reality of the world outside Petö’s lens: the rise of Hitler arid the treatment of Jews by the Nazi-allied Hungariangovernment.
Szemző’s elegiac scoreuses repetitive minimalist patterns and open, floating textures. Thesung text is taken verbatim from the Hungarian Jewish Laws, which, among otherthings, banned Jews from many professions and the public baths and forcedthem to wear yellow stars.
“The singing is a kindof lamentation,” says Szemző, on the phone from Budajenő, Hungary. “Thesinging, which is beautiful, peaceful and relaxing, is very much contrastedwith the meaning of the text.”
A similar tension is createdbetween Petö’s home movies – even those he filmed while in a forcedlabor camp have a gentle quality -and the viewer’s knowledge of what awaitsthese people. This person died in Auschwitz, the narration notes, thatoneat another camp. Petö survived the war and became a violist withtheBudapest Operetta Theater after the Communists seized his property in ’49.
“He filmed these very idyllic pictures during this period in Hungary when the discrimination hadalready started,” says Szemző, 45, whose music mixes the colors of electronicand acoustic instruments and bridges pop and classical music. While we see thesesmiling faces, this was not that happy (a time). “They didn’t see the future.”
Unlike Holocaust filmsthat grapple with the enormity of the horror, “Free Fall” is affecting because “it’slike a diary of tingle person’s life,” Szemző says. “We are working with vezypersonal footage of a family, and you get very deep into the story. Every timeweplay it, we’re moved.”