Abel (Adonyi-Walsh Gáspár) is a student in Budapest who is taking his final exams, but he finds himself more distracted by a crush on a classmate named Janka (Lilla Kizlinger), who has her own crush on her married, much older teacher Jakab (András Rusznák). Whether or not what unfolds in “Explanation for Everything” is a product of jealousy is one of many fascinating questions that Reisz lets the audience unpack, but it starts when Abel fails his history final exam. When given two subjects on which to give an oral presentation, the young man literally freezes up. And then something that I won’t spoil happens that seems almost casual but will create a controversy in town that threatens Jakab’s career and arguably illuminates privilege in Abel’s life.
“Explanation for Everything” ultimately digs into political and social differences that have divided countries around the world in a manner that’s unexpected and remarkably insightful. There’s a conversation late in the film between Jakab and Abel’s father that’s among the best scenes of the year, a war of words that digs into issues with intent, offense, and history that feels like a capsule version of everything from Brexit to MAGA. In a time in which the world feels deeply divided, “Explanation for Everything” proves its title to be a lie. On both sides, there will always be some things that can’t be fully explained.
I love fest coincidences and that’s the only way to explain that another strong film from this year’s CIFF unfolds in an educational setting, again centering a misunderstanding/insult between teacher and student (and the excellent “The Teachers Lounge” also played CIFF – it’s a trend!) Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “About Dry Grasses,” which originally premiered at Cannes, is another sharp dissection of human fallibility from the brilliant filmmaker behind “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” and the Palme-winning “Winter Sleep.” More than usual, Ceylan feels loose here, turning right when you expect him to go straight, even breaking the fourth wall, and there were times when I wanted a bit more narrative cohesion and a few less diversions into the kind of deeply philosophical conversations that Ceylan seems convinced are happening in non-descript homes around Turkey every single day, but this is still an admirably ambitious film. Ceylan doesn’t make anything less.