“Foam Bath,” The Hungarian Film That Pushed Character Animation Into New Territory

Foam Bath (Habfürdő, 1979) is a film that I’d seen only in bits and pieces so it was exciting to stumble onto the full version posted online. It’s not the best print, and it’s in Hungarian, but its uninhibited creativity shines through. According to animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi, the 1979 musical directed by György Kovásznai depicts “a groom-to-be who would like to cancel his weding, the bride’s best friend who is falling in love with the groom, the wedding and, overall, the disillusionment of a generation.” Hungarian Brew readers, please feel free to add to this synopsis. This is the entire film:

A painter and fine artist, Kovásznai utilizes collage techniques and optical effects to create a dense world of visual delights. But more than just an eclectic mix of graphic techniques, he succeeds at creating a universe in which the movement and acting is purely graphic. The thoughts and feelings of his character are expressed through stylized actions that reject the conventional principles of character animation. His characters transform and fragment into different shapes, fracture into pieces, shrink, expand, and change designs shot by shot, all without any loss of comprehension by the audience. An example can be seen in this spectacular four-second shot:

Kovásznai understands the power of the drawing to express a range of emotions and feelings that can’t be captured by a live-action camera. The film suggests a new range of symbolic acting possibilities in character animation, while showing that the animated character is far more malleable than most Western filmmakers dare to consider (although Japanese animators have certainly continued to explore in Kovásznai’s direction). Sadly, we don’t know how much further Kovásznai could have pushed the visual language of animation. Shortly after completing the film, ‪he was diagnosed with‬ leukemia. He died in 1983 at the age of 49.


  • caleb wood

    so good, thanks for sharing amid

  • Gorgon Lazardda Numther

    That is a very interesting artstyle.

  • Saturnome

    I saw the film last year, with subtitles. (I made a review of it here, in french though, sorry! http://cinematurnome.blogspot.ca/2012/09/habfurdo-kovasznai-gyorgy-hongrie-1979.html But I take some pride that it could very well be the only text written about it in French?!)
    The synopsis here is accurate, but frankly the story doesn’t matter much and is a bit absent. It’s all about the visuals, so I wouldn’t worry about watching it without subs.

  • James Madison

    Amazing.

  • Neal Kincaid Patten

    There was a retrospective of Kovásznai’s work curated by a Hungarian animation historian named Brigitta Iványi-Bitter a few years back. At that time his complete works (several dozen short films and his one and only feature film “Foam Bath”) were also released in a book with DVDs. It was an extremely small print run – only 500 or 1000 copies I believe.

    I have tried in vain to track down the original book and have been in contact with the original publisher as well as numerous Hungarian speciality booksellers who have been unable to produce a copy. Even Brigitta was corresponding with me for a short time and while she said the original book is out of print noted that there was a shorter version of the book with less films on the DVDs and overall less information that she would be able to send me but for whatever reason she has stopped responding to my emails.



    Finally an animation blogger whose name is mentioned now and again on Cartoon Brew (who is also involved in the festival scene and just organized an offshoot of Annecy) was kind enough to burn copies of the DVDs for me — but could not help me find the accompanying book to go with.



    The DVDs feature all of his films restored with newly translated english subtitles.

    

I must say this is one of the most unique animated features I have ever seen. Stunningly creative animation – all hand drawn, some oil painting, and a few instances of stop-motion via paper cut-outs. Truly innovative work that remains fresh today and I immensely enjoyed this film.

 Bizarre but not off-putting as Japanese animation can sometimes be. Groundbreaking character animation that has few equals in my mind (and I have seen a lot of animated features from around the world that few people have ever even heard of.)

    It is too bad that even though the film remained nearly completely unknown outside of Hungary or three decades, that now it has been translated and restored and released on DVD it is in such limited quanities.



    Good luck to anyone actually finding the retrospective book with DVDs — truly an impossibility. The Amazon listing has been empty for two straight years: http://www.amazon.com/Gyorgy-Kovasznai-Brigitta-Ivanyi-Bitter/dp/B004RXXP8A/



    Here is the website that was created to promote the book/museum exhibit when it released in 2010: http://www.kovasznaigyorgy.hu/en/animacio/

    

I have a tumblr blog where I promote obscure animated feature films (it’s just for fun, so it’s not exactly the most journalistic/professional blog) but I adapted this synopsis for the film from various sources and posted it back in April:

    “A beautifully bizarre Hungarian pop art extravaganza. Anna Paradi is a nursing student studying for her certification exams. One afternoon her studies are interrupted by Zsolt Mohai. Zsolt is engaged to Anna’s friend Klara Horvath. Zsolt reveals to Anna he does not wish to marry Klara, despite the fact their wedding is that afternoon. Zsolt is an interior designer and is looked down upon by Klara’s wealthy family. Zsolt attempts to convince Anna to call Klara and cancel the wedding. As the pair discuss his reasoning for wanting to call off the wedding, Anna begins to fall in love with Zsolt. The situation is complicated when Klara arrives at Anna’s apartment with the intention of bringing her to the wedding, forcing Zsolt to hide while Klara and Anna talk. Historian Olivér Horváth writes: ‘It is difficult to conceive a more confusing animation film than György Kovásznai’s Bubble Bath (1979), in which an unexcelled visual and musical orgy mixes. What is it like when the disintegrating psyche of a professional window-dresser takes shape? Kovásznai wanted to break from traditional animation themes and had a goal to create a feature animation film about people from Budapest. He is anatomizing problems of the 1970’s youth including the most difficult one: what to do with ourselves, what to do with our partners, and generally: how to fulfill our tasks in life. This serious topic is presented in an unusually eclectic style and in an entertaining way. This film is a grotesque animation musical comedy: it embraces various painting styles, from pop-art via Picasso to Rippl-Rónai. Songs are sung about biology, champagne, household appliances and other unusual topics.”

    http://animationactivist.tumblr.com/post/49082874638/bubble-bath-a-beautifully-bizarre-hungarian-pop

    • GW

      You’ve got a great blog. I don’t know where you found out about some of these more recent films. I’ve been really out of the loop. I’d never heard of The Lady of Names, Eden, Or The Mysterious Presages of Leon Prozak. You’ve done such a better job on your blog than I did on mine that I should leave the feature blogging to you and move onto something else that I’m currently more interested in.

      Here’s my blog if you’d like to read it. It’s really awkwardly written since I never established as clear of an idea of what I was doing.

      http://animationhardtofind.blogspot.com

  • Sz

    I used to read a lot about Kovásznai, he is one of my
    favorite artists. They say he was the kinda peaceful guy who got crazy in art.
    I think Habfürdő is little bit about dreams: the groom used to wanted to be an
    artist, but he didn’t succeeded and now he designs shop windows, but he still
    declares himself as an artist (there is a song about it too). and then the
    brides (who works also in the hospital like the girl with the red skirt) want
    to be only a wife, and can’t understand why the other girl want to became a
    doctor. In the last scene the already-wife says that she will try the
    university like the othergirl.