Finally, a new film by Györgi Pálfi! After the international successes of his absurdist Hukkle and far weirder follow-up Taxidermia, the Hungarian director saw production rind to a halt, barring some shorts and a cut-and-paste film. Free Fall is his revenge: a compendium of all the films he would have liked to have made all those years.
Unfortunately, Pálfi wasn’t available to speak to us directly. He’s much too busy filming his next film The Voice in Canada, a relatively big production based on a novel by scifi-master Stanislaw Lem. And with post-production on his film Mindörökké (which translates to ‘forever’), which should see the light of day later this year. All in all, it’s an uncharacteristically busy year for the director who has struggled since the international success of Hukkle (2002) and Taxidermia (2006) to get his films made, because there was never any money in his home country Hungary.
It led him to create the brilliant compilation film Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen in 2012, a protest against the impossibility of making films for which Pálfi compiled clips from hundreds of other films te create his own universal love story. It was an act of desperation from a director who was watching his ideas go to waste: a 2014 interview in the Budapest Telegraph reads like a virtual catalogue of all the films Pálfi could not get made.
That lack of funding was also the foundation for Free Fall, Pálfi tells the audience during a Q&A at the Chicago International Film Festival. “What was the inspiration? The possibility to make this movie, that was the inspiration. We got some money from the Jeonju Film Festival in South Korea, so we had to make a movie in a short time with a very small budget. So it had to be something we could do in very little time, shoot in just one location.”
Those limitations were also freeing in a way, Pálfi says in an interview held during the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, where Free Fall had its premiere and won three awards. “With so little money, we were free. Nobody was asking questions: Why do you do this? What about your script? Where are your characters going? That’s why we could make an experimental movie, finding out how we could destroy the normal feature film structures.”
To be able to make the film in such a short time, Pálfi dusted off an old idea, he says in Chicago: an omnibus film about a woman who jumps from the roof of an apartment block and sees a different story at all seven floors she passes on her way down. It was an idea he had pitched to students at the film school where he teaches. “It’s a good structure for an omnibus movie by a group of students. They can each make a short movie and bring them together. But now I used it myself!”
That main throughline isn’t the only old idea that found its way into the film: many of the stories gathering dust on Pálfi’s shelves were repurposed for Free Fall, he says in an interview with Czech publication CSFD held during KVIFF. “A lot of stories came from old scripts that weren’t produced, or from scenes that we cut from the films that we did make. The mother who goes to the gynecologist to have her baby put back in, that was a script for a feature film we had started to write. But then the Benjamin Button film by David Fincher came out, and our film was too similar, unfortunately. I couldn’t trash this idea, however, so when I had possibilities now, we rewrote it as a short story. Now I don’t need to shoot that film anymore!”
In a way, Free Fall may have become an exorcism of sorts for all those unproduced films, finally freeing Pálfi up to work on something new. In any case, the abundance of ideas builds up to an immensely rich film, which mutates into something new with every new scene. “We tried to choose a different genre for every story, and with every genre use a style of camera movement and lenses and sound design to fit it”, Pálfi says in Chicago. “Everybody has a favorite story. I do too, but I would rather say that this is a single feature film. It’s not seven separate stories, it’s one long feature and I don’t want to choose. The only way I can choose is as a director: which flat is the one that most perfectly turned out the way I wanted it to?”