By Don Simpson | January 7, 2011
Director: Péter Gárdos
Writer(s): Péter Gárdos, Zsuzsa Tóth (idea)
Starring: Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Blanka Szilasi, Lajos Bertók
Sometime in the past, a talented bar pianist named Misu (Gyorgy Cserhalmi) was shot by a robber who was in the guise of Santa Claus. Misu assumes that the only reason he survived the encounter was due to a last minute prayer in which he promised that we would never play piano again in exchange for his life.
In the present, we find that Misu has forfeited not just his career as a pianist, but also his marriage and parenthood. Jobless and in dire need of cash to fund his addictions to alcohol, sweets and gambling, Misu reluctantly accepts a gig playing Santa Claus at a local department store. (Luckily Misu did not promise the powers that be that he would no longer sing because he gives some great vocal performances as Santa.)
While making his rounds as Santa, Misu stumbles upon a runaway 8-year old orphan named Liza (Blanka Szilasi) who has been promised a bicycle for Christmas this year and she is determined to collect that bicycle from Misu. The two unlikely friends wander the city together, frequenting bars, race tracks and sweets shops in between borrowing and stealing from Misu’s friends and family, presumably with the end goal of fulfilling Liza’s only Christmas wish. The question remains will these experiences with Liza snap Misu out of his current state of misery, cynicism and aimlessness?
Written and directed by Péter Gárdos, The Real Santa is a significantly toned-down and poetic distant cousin to the over-the-top shenanigans of Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa (which was released two years prior to The Real Santa). Do not get me wrong, I like Bad Santa, but I enjoy the low-key approach of The Real Santa much more. Szilasi and Cserhalmi are both perfectly cast and they play off each other quite effectively. Though a one-legged curmudgeon with an endless list of bad habits, Misu seems quite worthy of our sympathy; it is very difficult not to fall in love with Misu, especially after any one of his spellbinding stream-of-conscious lyrical performances. And what is not to love about sweet little Liza?