literature, cinema, fine arts

Zelig (1983)

Being Woody Allen

  • Produced by Müpa Budapest
  • Müpa Film Club

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Is there anyone who has never heard of Leonard Zelig? He must have been an important figure indeed to warrant having the excellent Susan Sontag and the Nobel Prize-winning writer Saul Bellow both make such an earnest statement about him right at the beginning of the film. Did we miss something? Well then, let's take our cell phones out in the darkness of the auditorium and type the name ‘Leonard Zelig' into the search engine. The smarter ones among us can then immediately create a ‘Leonard Zelig' page on social media, and by the time they leave the cinema, they will already have dozens of followers. Zelig had to exist - as documented on black and white film. F. Scott Fitzgerald himself noticed him at a party... But, wait: why does Zelig look so much like Woody Allen?

Let's clear up a few things: in 1983, we didn't have a device (a smartphone) that replaced everything else in our pockets, we didn't have to fight every second to decide whether what we were seeing was real, and the genre of the mockumentary wasn't particularly widespread yet either. Forty years ago, the question of whether it is permissible or ethical to enrich/dilute documentary footage with scenes filmed afterwards might still have provoked passionate debate. This made it very easy to trick us. But we laughed about it a few minutes later, when it dawned on us that the story of Zelig the human chameleon was a game, a joke. Or perhaps it wasn't. This is because the little schlemiel of a Manhattan Jew was thinking about acceptance and being accepted. About the dilemma of assimilation. Our hero is a lightning-fast shapeshifter who takes on the form, mannerisms, and language of the members of society around him, regardless of the environment. There you go, it's that easy! Who wouldn't accept someone who is just like themselves? Right, but who is the real Leonard Zelig if he is always being someone else? This remains a damned tricky question even today. We don't even have to be little Manhattan Jews to get lost in the forest of our useful and profitable ways of doing things in the 21st-century world of ‘compliance'. It could be that it is no easier today to say who we are, who we belong to, and why we are loved than it was then. If at all...

In English, with Hungarian subtitles.

The discussions before and after the screening will be conducted in Hungarian.

Presented by: Müpa Budapest
  • director
    Woody Allen
  • host
    András Réz

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