The vast gulf between imagination and reality is thrillingly realised in Flóra Anna Buda’s 27, contrasting ripe, verdant fields of sex fantasies with the noir-ish, dark cityscape of Budapest. Allowing her sexual imagination to run wild, Alice, 27 years old and still living with her parents, uses fantasy to escape from the more banal aspects of her unfortunate economic situation. Nestling a look at the Hungarian housing crisis within a frank, female-first slice of erotica, this deserving Cannes 2023 Palme d’Or winning animation certainly feels like the apotheosis of a recent wave of diverse, bold and memorable Hungarian animations — filled with hand drawn delights, smartly layering styles on top of one another and memorable, vivid characters. We had the chance to talk to Buda about working with a large team to pull the short off, creating LGBTQ content in Hungary and her reaction to winning the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
I’m 28, so just one year older than Alice in this film. Luckily I don’t live with my parents, but I can certainly relate to living in a little bit of a limbo. Why did you pick this age and why do you think it is ripe for dramatisation?
I can totally relate to you. I was 27 when I moved out of my parent’s place; it was a messy period with major limbos. So this part is autobiographical, but I also find this age very characteristic of when adolescence and adulthood is being a bit confused with each other. Not to mention all those rockstars who lost their lives at 27. It is a vulnerable and dramatic period for sure.
I loved the animation style of 27, which veers between fantasy and reality, and depicts Budapest as a dark, dystopia while the fantasy sequences are filled with light and joy. Tell me about how you wanted to approach the aesthetic of the film.
Thanks! The aesthetic came first actually. I was working on another script and I felt stuck so I started just drawing for myself. I drew three images right after each other in the same style, it was very exciting and motivating. In the meantime, I had the idea in the back of my head of directing an animated porno. I thought painting this universe could complement the explicit erotic scenes so it won’t feel so harsh on the big screen.
The film is extremely frank about female sexuality and how important it is to a well-lived life. Is this honesty something that you feel is lacking in representation? How did you want to approach it?
I wanted to be as direct as I could be because I got tired of all the ‘bees and flowers’ style of representing erotica. It leaves too much room for different interpretations and I think this is one of the problems in real-life sex. I find it important to learn to communicate directly about sex in order to approach it in a healthier way. This and showing intimacy were the two priorities when I built up the sex scenes.
I find it important to learn to communicate directly about sex in order to approach it in a healthier way.
There is something quite porn-filmy about the opening sequence, with Alice finding a novel way to placate the police officers. Were you inspired by anything in particular?
It was inspired by a bike accident I had a few years ago, where I fell in front of six policemen and they had to call the ambulance. I was laughing later because it was such a realistic plot for a bad porn film. Also, I found the police a good symbol for authority which is also the everyday life of this character, since her life is ruled by others. Also, the beginning of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet was inspiring in terms of the faded summery morning colours. And besides that, I always had this fantasy of having sex in a wide-open field…
I wanted to ask what it was like to create those lesbian sex sequences in animation as your home country of Hungary passed a law against so-called “LGBT propaganda” in 2021. What was it like getting funding? What do you think the reaction might be like?
I left Hungary to make this film, I was abroad during the entire three years of production (and I still am). I felt like I needed to be in an open-minded atmosphere to be able to finish this piece. It was a risk for me on a personal level to direct such an explicit film and we didn’t get direct funding from the Hungarian national film institute. We had the French budget and through the Hungarian production house, we raised 30 per cent out of a tax refund. This way it could be a French-Hungarian coproduction which was important to me since I wanted the language to be Hungarian and to work with mostly Hungarian colleges.
It was a risk for me on a personal level to direct such an explicit film.
You also tackle the housing crisis in Hungary. Is this a big issue affecting millennials?
Not only millennials but yes most of us are struggling with this problem. It is a universal problem, but it is particularly problematic in Hungary unless you have rich parents. There are not enough scholarships or support for artists so it is a struggle to be independent and do art at the same time. It is one of the biggest luxuries in Hungary to have a job that you actually genuinely enjoy.
What was it like weaving this theme together with a young woman’s personal story?
It was natural. I wrote my own story and found a structure that came naturally. Of course later on I made some efforts to write fiction out of it but each element on its own is somewhat real.
It certainly feels like a team effort, with many creators involved. What was it like bringing a team to work together on the project and what was the collaboration process like?
Since I have this fine artsy side and I’m also a technician I wanted to keep the creative decisions for myself. I also had a specific imagination for the sound, and wanted to get involved with all parts of the ‘dirty work’. One and a half years of pre-production which I did alongside the Editor Albane du Plessix, was followed by a year and a half of production with a fantastic team of professional technicians. I was lucky enough to work with Production Manager Nadja Andrasev and Lead Colourist Vivi Hàrshegyi because those were the most complicated parts of this film.
We needed more colleagues to communicate with the rest of the team while I was painting the backgrounds, checking the animations made by the crazy talented animators and supervising the coloured shots which were pre-validated by Vivi. And after we had this magnificent creative collab with the musicians, Màri Màkó and Rozi Màkó and the Sound Designer Pèter Lukàcs Benjàmin – not to mention the compositing of the images done by David Mendes de Oliveira and me.
I loved the music as well, which really helps to move the short along and immerse us into this world. Tell me about your collaboration with the composer.
The most creatively collaborative part was happening with the musical duo called Committee — made up of Màri Màkó and Rozi Màkó — who did the music for the film. I fell in love with two of the tracks on their new album so we agreed to use those in the film. And one day these talented women sent me an old impro they did years ago. Out of curiosity I tried it on the beginning of the film and it fitted perfectly – we almost kept it as it was. All in all, it was very natural and intuitive to work together. I think collaboration works when you feel you are resonating with others on a deeper level and it goes naturally. I certainly felt this with Committee.
Since I have this fine artsy side and I’m also a technician I wanted to keep the creative decisions for myself.
It’s very interesting to see this after catching the feature White Plastic Sky at Berlinale and Amok at Glasgow earlier this year. It feels like Hungarian animation is really having a moment right now. Do you think this is true or has there always been a solid tradition to work from?
It always had a tradition but in the last 10 years, we can speak about a new wave of animation directors who graduated at MOME. There is a lot of talent and passion amongst Hungarian animation directors right now and it is super inspiring to be part of it.
What’s it like to not only be selected for Cannes but to also win the Palme d’Or?
It is dreamy, I’m not sure I can describe it very well, but I guess it is like in Alice in Wonderland. A new door of curiosity has opened and it gives a bit more courage to actually discover what’s in the next room.
And what is next for you?
I have a few ideas for the future but most of them are in a very early and vulnerable phase. But at the moment I’m working on my fine art projects, and some paintings, drawings and crocheted headpieces.