Director: György Fehér
Screenplay: György Fehér
Based on a Novella by: Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Starring: Péter Haumann, János Derzsi, Judit Pogány, Kati Lázár, István Lénárt, Gyula Pauer, Miklós Székely B.
Country: Hungary
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1990
BBFC Certificate: 15

The Hungarian filmmaker György Fehér was a contemporary of and collaborator with Béla Tarr, on top of having acted in films by luminaries such as Miklós Jancsó and Károly Makk. Fehér made a number of celebrated TV movies and worked for several years in the theatre but in the last decade or so of his life (he died in 2002, aged 63) he wrote and directed two feature films.

The first of these was Twilight (a.k.a. Szürkület – not the shiny vampire nonsense from 2008). It was shot on a low budget, using largely leftover film donated by one of the main Hungarian TV stations, but was still a lengthy 5-month shoot. This was followed by an even longer period of post-production.

The film was finally released in 1990, in the first official post-Communist year in modern Hungary. This was a time of artistic freedom, where the state didn’t meddle with the work of its artists. It was a unique time in the nation’s cinema, in particular, coming before financial implications crept in and put their own stranglehold over film production.

This golden period did little to accommodate the success of Twilight though. After a screening at TIFF, it was released in Hungary but withdrawn soon after. It did quite well in the Netherlands, strangely enough, but otherwise came and went and has been hard to get hold of for a long time, becoming somewhat of a mythical film to fans of Hungarian cinema. A print emerged somewhere around 2010 but a rights dispute prevented it from being released. Eventually, it was allowed to be screened in 2020 and has finally made it to Blu-ray, thanks to the tireless dedication of Second Run.

Finding the marketing blurb intriguing and always trusting the taste of Second Run, I got hold of a copy so that I could share my thoughts here.

Twilight is based on a novella by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, titled ‘The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel’ (a.k.a. ‘Das Versprechen: Requiem auf den Kriminalroman’), which was originally written as a screenplay for It Happened in Broad Daylight (a.k.a. Es geschah am hellichten Tag). When the 1958 film harshly deviated from his intended ending and excised some of the themes he wished to explore, Dürrenmatt decided to expand his original work into a book. On top of Twilight, the novella has been adapted into an American film, The Pledge, directed by Sean Penn.

The story is very simple. The body of a young girl has been found in the woods and the police arrive to investigate. The two lead detectives are an older Inspector (played by Péter Haumann) who is nearing retirement and a younger, more driven man, merely named K in the titles (played by Tarr and Fehér regular, János Derzsi).

They initially arrest a hawker (Gyula Pauer) who claims he stumbled across the body on his travels. This man seems to fit the description gleaned from a picture the young girl drew of a mysterious person she would regularly meet with to be given chocolates. However, the detectives don’t believe the hawker is the culprit and, after he commits suicide, the detectives can no longer question him to know for sure. Thus begins a difficult, possibly fruitless search for a killer in the murky depths of rural Hungary.

On paper, this description sounds like Twilight is just another generic murder mystery that you might find in any number of TV dramas or forgettable films. However, run-of-the-mill this most certainly is not.

For starters, everything is severely stripped back, with the audience only given the bare minimum of information to follow the story. I found myself missing a couple of details through this ambiguity (most notably why the hawker is dismissed as a suspect), which frustrated me, but it’s all part of the unsettling quality of the film and just enough is told or shown to keep you transfixed.

Indeed, whilst this is capital A arthouse fare and very much an example of the Hungarian ‘slow cinema’ movement, it’s not as difficult to watch as you might think. In fact, I found myself bewitched. The whole thing is kind of like watching a scaled-down Zodiac in black and white and slow motion.

As is common in these types of Hungarian films, coming after the New Wave that was kickstarted by Current (Sodrásban) and continued by directors such as Miklós Jancsó, shots are lengthy. In fact, there are only around 40 shots in the whole of Twilight. These always linger longer than you would expect too. This makes for a deeply unsettling atmosphere whilst also forcing you to slow down and fully soak in what you’re watching.

‘Soak in’ is a suitable phrase to use too, as, even if you can’t fathom all of what is happening on screen or what it all means, it’s easy to simply bathe in the film’s stunning visuals and thick atmosphere. It’s a black-and-white film that uses shades of grey rather than harshly contrasting blacks and whites. This fits the murky, uncertain aspects of the film itself, as does the heavy use of fog, smoke and rain to obscure your vision of the landscape.

Shots are stunningly realised, with each image worthy of printing and placing in some sort of smokey, noir-inspired exhibition. Slow, floating movement is used in places too, but never in an overly showy fashion. Shots are often unusually framed or from a peculiar perspective though. The camera is occasionally behind our main subject or the audience is often forced to watch a scene through a window or outside a doorway. Not only does this add to the curious sense of unease, but it also creates a feeling of voyeurism in places, as though we’re at the scene of the crime but hovering in the periphery, peering around a corner to see what’s going on. This is reinforced through the way we’re not privy to all the information of the case or every detail of the film’s narrative.

The film’s editor, Mária Czeilk talks about Fehér’s use of narrative ambiguity, saying how even she didn’t know what was going on initially, as the director refused to give her a script. She was, and the audience is, forced to watch closely and think, almost meditate, about the film that slowly unfolds before us.

This style won’t be for everyone. Anyone expecting a fast-paced detective thriller will be sorely disappointed. Instead, quiet, emotionless inactivity is the order of the day. As mentioned, Béla Tarr was a frequent collaborator with Fehér and is credited here as a ‘consultant’ on the film. As you might expect then, Twilight has a similar feel to Tarr’s work, though I thought it had a little more of a notable drive and hook than the punishing (albeit superb) Turin Horse, the only Tarr film I’ve seen so far.

Aiding the atmospheric nature of the film is the bass-heavy, minimalist sound design and score, the latter of which features only two pieces of music that are repeated at various points. One is a track by Popul Vuh, a cue from their score for Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, which has been slowed down and pitch-shifted. The second is a Georgian choral piece which featured in part on Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love album. Short repeated snatches of Bella Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle can be found in these pieces too. Using these repeated samples, often quietly in the background, help create a dreamlike, or rather nightmare-like mood.

I think I’d need another watch or two to properly unfurl any clear themes in Twilight, but I did find it interesting how the film often blurs the line between the criminal and the police. Chiefly, the only description the detectives have of the killer comes from a drawing by the murdered child and this matches themselves in numerous instances, through their clothes, car and later even their actions. [*SPOILER*] This is particularly notable in the final scene where a figure is slowly revealed outside a car that seems to be that of the killer. The figure is large and clad in black like our suspect. His face is even obscured when the camera eventually pans up his body. However, when he finally leans into shot, we realise it’s another police officer who had initially found the vehicle. [*END OF SPOILER*]

I’ll give up trying to analyse the film any further though, as I don’t feel I fully got a grasp on it and I’m beginning to ramble. All I’ll say is that Twilight is a stylistically striking and incredibly atmospheric film. Its elusive and syrup-paced nature can get a bit much at times but it’s hard to deny this is a remarkable piece of cinema.

Twilight (Szürkület) is out on 12th June on region-free Blu-ray, released by Second Run. Considering the film has previously only been available on ropey VHS to DVD transfers, the HD presentation here is a godsend. In an early scene where the lighter greys are particularly heavy, a small touch of digital noise crept in a fraction, but elsewhere the high levels of fog, smoke and film grain, all of which are notoriously difficult to handle digitally, come off incredibly well. The middle-ground tones are suitably rich and it all looks wonderfully natural. I’ve used screengrabs throughout my review to give you an idea of how it looks, though these have been compressed.

The audio has a suitably deep range too, though I was never sure how loud to set my volume, with some of the dialogue coming out quite intensely and other lines lurking in the background. This seems to be intentional though.


– Twilight (Szürkület, 1990) presented from the new 4K restoration by the National Film Institute Hungary – Film Archive, supervised and approved by cinematographer Miklós Gurbán.
– A series of exclusive newly filmed appreciations by filmmakers: Quay Brothers, Peter Strickland, James Norton and critic Chris Fujiwara.
– Newly filmed interviews with Twilight editor Mária Czeilk and cinematographer Miklós Gurbán.
– Booklet featuring an expansive new essay by filmmaker and curator Stanley Schtinter.
– Trailer
– New and improved English subtitle translation.
– World premiere on Blu-ray.
– Region free Blu-ray (A/B/C)

The Quay Brothers tell of how they first saw the film on a VHS to DVD transfer, which gave a certain mystique to it. They do, however, also talk about how the newly remastered print has cast it in a whole new light for them, before going on to show great admiration for Twilight. They discuss the soundtrack in detail too, which is very interesting.

Similarly, Peter Strickland had first seen the film on a dodgy bootleg but he didn’t connect to the film on this initial, low-quality viewing. However, when he was approached about providing an interview here he thought he’d give the film a second chance and viewed the newly remastered print. After this, he was completely turned around on the film. He has some unusual but intriguing thoughts about Hungarian cinema and Twilight. He lived in Hungary for a long time, so has a personal connection to the country.

Chris Fujiwara provides a thoughtful analysis of the film too. I didn’t find his delivery quite as engaging as some of the other contributors here but he makes some genuinely interesting points.

James Norton’s appreciation is the shortest of the four. That’s not to say it’s any less valuable though. Whilst it’s clear he’s reading from or at least is prompted by a sheet just off-camera, the content is well-considered and thoughtful. He talks about how Twilight examines the role of the state and religion in Hungary, as well as discussing the use of music and cinematography.

Twilight Editor Mária Czeilk talks of her work with Fehér and on the film itself. She worked with him at a TV news studio and they would be left alone in the evenings, so they could do their own editing ‘out of hours’, which is how they became acquainted. She also talks about the difficulties of working with such a large amount of material, shot on differing qualities of film stock in very long takes, as well as Fehér’s quirks as a director. As an editor myself, I felt for her as she described the concentration required to work with such epic takes for such a particular director. It’s a fascinating and honest interview.

The cinematographer Miklós Gurbán also speaks honestly about the challenges of working for Fehér. He actually replaced the film’s original DOP, János Kende. Only one shot of Kende’s remains in the film and it was lit in a different, cleaner, higher-contrast style to the rest, so had to be degraded to fit. Gurbán’s interview is frank and illuminating.

The booklet is well worth a read too. Stanley Schtinter starts out by providing a little background on the film and his history with it before detailing his recent trip to Hungary to try and find one of the child actors in the film. It’s an enjoyable and interesting piece.

So, a very strong collection of interviews and a valuable booklet, added to a very special film make this an easy recommendation.


Twilight (Szürkület, 1990) - Second Run
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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