Kills on Wheels, the second feature film by Attila Till, will have its international premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. A unique blend of genres and moods, the movie is funnier and more heartfelt than you would expect from a film packed full of hitmen and killer dogs.
text and interview by Bori Bujdosó
Hungarian films have found a great introductory platform in the East of the West selection of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival over the past couple of years. In 2014 two dark comedies – both first features – premiered at the festival: Afterlife and For Some Inexplicable Reason. In 2015 Hungary was again represented by two films: the whimsically playful ‘Zero’ and Lili Horváth’s debut The Wednesday Child, a social drama about a young mother fighting to keep her son, which won the East of the West Award. This year Hungary returns with Attila Till’s Kills on Wheels which was chosen as the opening film of the selection.
The 44 year old director, who graduated from the Hungarian University of Fine Arts, has been a well-known media personality in Hungary for over ten years, hosting popular TV shows. But he seems to be able to switch from the role of TV personality to film director (and back) effortlessly. His first feature film, Panic, a comedy focusing on the hang-ups and neuroses of its various characters, was released in 2008. In 2011 he stepped out onto the international stage with Beast which premiered at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes. The 20 minute film provided a harrowing portrayal of modern day slavery and went on to a very successful international festival tour, winning awards in Tampere and Krakow among others.
Kills on Wheels once again represents a complete shift in gears. It is a darkly funny, emotional and sometimes violent story about a disabled youngster, Zolika (Zoltán Fenyvesi), who together with his best friend (Ádám Fekete) becomes involved in the dangerous and exciting life of an ex-fireman (Szabolcs Thuróczy), who now earns his living as a hitman for hire. It was important for the director to cast disabled people for the roles of the two friends and his decision paid off as Fenyvesi and Fekete (the former new to acting, the latter a part- time theatre actor) hold their own partnering up with Thuróczy, one of the most talented and popular actors in Hungary.
While the film is an original blend of the buddy comedy and the gangster movie, it also has a strong emotional hook about a boy in search of a father figure and a grown man trying to rebuild his life after having lost everything. Till also plays with reality versus fantasy as the events of the film unfold in the form of a comic strip created by Zolika and his friend. While some of the humorous exchanges between the various worn-down hitmen in the film might invoke Guy Ritchie, the director credits the not-so-evident influence of Pedro Almodóvar who also weaves absurdist tales out of the everyday.
As the two members of the cast with physical impairments, did you and Ádám double as experts to make the film more authentic?
There wasn’t much need for that as the script was already well- researched and pretty accurate as far as the physical aspects go, but we sneaked some small stuff in from our real lives. For example Ádám does have to have a short drinking straw when he drinks shots. Szabolcs sometimes asked me if he placed his legs right or if it was okay to move from the wheelchair to the bed in a certain way, but that was all. When I watched the movie I paid special attention to whether he seemed authentic and I have to say that if I didn’t know that he could walk, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell that he is not really disabled.
The movie parallels your real life in some aspects, most importantly that both you and your character grew up without a father. Is this a total coincidence or was this added to the script after you were cast in the role?
It’s a coincidence, it was already in the script when I went to audition for the role. But I have to say that this is not an uncommon scenario as many families just don’t survive the fact that the child is born with a disability and one of the parents leaves. However, in my case it was a bit different as my parents’ marriage was already on the rocks before I was born. When my mum became pregnant they decided to give their relationship another go but it just didn’t work out for them. My disability played a part in my father leaving but it wasn’t the only factor. It might sound strange but 23 years ago the attitude of people in Hungary towards disabilities was quite different. I’m no expert but my impression is that the bond between parent and child is stronger now in most cases. When I go to races with the Suhanj! Foundation for disabled people I see many parents who bring their child, not so that their disabled kid can spend time with other disabled kids, but to be part of a communal experience with kids and parents together. That’s a huge difference.
You haven’t really acted before taking on this role. Was there a moment of panic when you realized what you got yourself into?
Yes, in the very beginning when Szabolcs slaps me twice. The first surprise was when Attila told me that we were going to do that on camera for real and the second when I realized that Szabolcs was not going to hit me two times but about a hundred and two times during the different takes. What can I say? Life is hard for an actor. There was also an emotional scene when I really give it to my mum, telling her how she messed up and that was hard for me to do, especially when Móni Balsai, who played my mum, started crying during the scene. I thought of my real mum who always stood by me and I just couldn’t go on being a jerk to her.
You’re about to graduate from the Budapest Metropolitan University where you study PR and Marketing. What is your diploma thesis on and what are your plans for the future?
It’s kind of funny because my thesis was supposed to focus on the representation of people with disabilities in the media, but since ‘Kills on Wheels’ came out in Hungary, Ádám and I have been all over the media, so the topic of my thesis became too self-centred by accident. I think I will alter the original idea slightly so it’s not all about me. I realized that communication is my forte after I started my Instagram page in 2013 and it became quite popular, so I want to do something creative with people. It would also be great to get a job with a multinational company because I’d like to spend some time abroad too.
Do you get strange fan requests through your Instagram and because of the movie? And how about offers from girls?
People are usually nice. The weirdest so far was somebody who expected me to know exactly when and where he can watch the movie in a theatre with wheelchair access. Girls, not so much. I recently talked to a non- disabled friend who used to date a girl in a wheelchair, and for him it was a turn-on that the girl was a kind of “damsel in distress” he could help. But the reverse doesn’t work that well: if you are a guy in a wheelchair you can’t do many chivalrous things, on the contrary you are the one who needs help in certain situations, for example entering a restaurant with stairs up front. But I really don’t mind that I don’t have a girlfriend at the moment, my life is so incredibly busy.I’m doing great on my own for now.
Is there anything you haven’t tried before but would love to?
I lead a pretty active life. I recently tried scuba-diving, but I would love to try skydiving! I saw a guy in a wheelchair doing it in Dubai, so it’s definitely possible for disabled people too.