Sharing the moment of their birth with that of the lightbulb’s invention, My Twentieth Century follows the divergent lives of twin girls Dora and Lili. After their mother dies, they are orphaned and separated, and follow paths that only connect through a mysterious man named Z, who fails to realise he has two romantic interests rather than one. When the twins meet each other at last on New Year’s Eve of 1899, on the Orient Express, their differences are stark: one is a con woman, scamming money from men, and the other has joined a group of feminist revolutionaries.
Starring Oleg Yankovsky, of Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia (1983), and shot in newly restored black and white by acclaimed cinematographer Tibor Máthé, part of the magic of this film comes from the notion that Edison’s electrical lightbulb invention would eventually give rise to cinema. My Twentieth Century engages in several ways with film history: Enyedi pays homage to silent and fairytale traditions in scenes told by stars in the night sky, and indulges in further fantasies when the stars go on to release a laboratory dog – an act of liberation that affords glimpses from the dog’s perspective into the future.
In 1989, this remarkable film won Ildikó Enyedi the Golden Camera award for best feature debut at Cannes. Her latest film, On Body and Soul, received the Golden Bear at the 2017 Berlinale.
My Twentieth Century, Dir. Ildikó Enyedi, Hungary/West Germany, 1989, 102 mins, Hungarian with English subtitles