Pálfi is a man distinctly unimpressed with the verbose screenplays of most films. His debut responds to this by being completely without dialogue. Andrew James Horton looks at this festival hit.
Being a fan of central European—and especially Hungarian—film can a bit depressing at times. Deep, introspective works of the "miserablist" tendency are common and the comedies are often slight, derivative pieces that seem better suited to television than the big screen. György Pálfi's Hukkle (2002), however, will come as a welcome breath of fresh air, being a fresh and original debut that combines humour, careful observation and innovation.
The main protagonist of the film is not so much a person but the Hungarian village in which all the action takes place. The story, as much as there is one, is told through a series of loose tales that interlink the eccentric inhabitants of the rural community. To string the stories together, Pálfi employs an army of editing and special effects techniques, such as a man drinking cutting to an x-ray view of the fluid slopping down through his skeleton, which then freezes and becomes a still in a doctor's room, or a sudden dramatic cut to a wobbling pair of testicles that belong to a trotting pig.
Meanwhile, the common recurring theme of an old man sitting on a bench, waiting for a bus and patiently enduring a chronic bout of hiccoughs—which gives the film its onomatopoeic title. As the film develops, a languid murder investigation takes shape, but the supposed "high drama" of homicide is never allowed to break the calm of the rustic idyll. As long-time Hungarian cinema fan Derek Elley wrote a highly positive review for Variety, the film has "the look of [a] precisely shot ethnographic / nature documentary."
The silent touch
The most remarkable feature of Pálfi's film is that he has completely eschewed dialogue. Instead, he maintains interest in the film through imaginative use of close-ups, sound and creating relationships between people through gesture and facial expression, not to mention the aforementioned special effects. The combination is interesting as intense use of cinematic devices is often associated with urban storylines. Here Pálfi uses them to underline not the rush and emotioinal complexity of modern city life, as has been successfully done in films such as Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amélie, 2001) and Lola rentt (Run, Lola, Run, 1998), but the simplicity and quiet, underlying strangeness of rural life.
Some of the more overt effects, such as a jet plane passing under a bridge, are a bit intrusive and while the majority of scenarios work without spoken responses, there are some scenes where the lack of dialogue seems to be pushing the suspension of disbelief a little. Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine somebody not liking the film.
Certainly, the film has been popular at festivals. At the Magyar Filmszemle (Hungarian Film Week) earlier this year in Budapest, the film walked off with Best debut award and the Gene Moskovitch prize, awarded by the international journalists. Since then, the film has picked a special mention San Sebastian and at Cottbus the film the won the Audience Award, the Special Prize, the First Work Award of the Student Jury and to cap it all got a special mention from the FIPRESCI jury. A healthy tour of the festival circuit seems inevitable.
Andrew James Horton
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