A murder mystery wrapped in an experimental portrait of life in a rural Hungarian town, writer-director Gyorgy Palfi's engrossing feature debut is a breathtaking feat of filmmaking. Told almost entirely without dialogue, Palfi's story unfolds in striking images and a symphony of sounds, from the snuffling of grazing sheep to the whir of sewing machines in...read more
A murder mystery wrapped in an experimental portrait of life in a rural Hungarian town, writer-director Gyorgy Palfi's engrossing feature debut is a breathtaking feat of filmmaking. Told almost entirely without dialogue, Palfi's story unfolds in striking images and a symphony of sounds, from the snuffling of grazing sheep to the whir of sewing machines in a dressmaking factory. It opens as elderly Uncle Cseklik (Ferenc Bandi) awakens with hiccups ("hukkle" in Magyar) and makes his way outside, where he passes the day watching the world go by. A farmer harvests corn, which is ground into flour at the nearby mill and makes its way into the kitchens of village housewives. A shepherd (Edit Nagy) idly watches a ladybug, old men bowl, a huge pig followed by its owner (Istvan Barath) trots down the street on its oddly delicate hooves. But gradually, a darker story becomes visible: A family visits Grandma (Mihalyne Kiraly) and their young son dies soon after what they never saw was the housecat that expired after sharing stolen kitchen scraps with the child. A poacher fishes in a murky pond, unaware that a corpse lies on the bottom. An old woman lies paralyzed on a cot as flies die in what appears to be a bowl of milk. The town's policeman (Jozsef Farkas) investigates, and finds murderous corruption beneath the town's placid surface. Palfi's camera sometimes hovers high overhead, reducing the fields to a patchwork of green; other times it dives beneath the ground, wriggling through a tangle of tree roots to watch in close-up as a mole devours an earthworm. Palfi suggests the passing of days with time-lapse photography of lilies of the valley exploding through the soil, and tosses in the occasional startlingly artificial image: an eating man suddenly becomes transparent, his bones visible like an x-ray, and then, in the blink of an eye, they are an x-ray, pulled from a lightbox by a clinic doctor. The occasional dialogue is so muffled that human voices sound like humming bees; words become significant only when they sweep through the final scene like an icy wind. At a wedding, a women's chorus in traditional costume sings a macabre folk song to a distracted bride and boisterous groom (Ildiko Kovacs, Csaba Virag): "If your husband has you seething, Belladonna you should feed him," they harmonize. "Add some pepper, make it pleasing; he'll be laid out by the evening." Chilling.
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