Friday, October 30, 2009

Film Review : Katalin Varga (dir Peter Strickland)

This is a beautiful, shocking film which will haunt you long after leaving the cinema, for many reasons.

The plot is straightforward, but is revealed slowly: Katalin Varga's husband has discovered that his wife's son was not fathered by him, and he turns her out of their house in rural Rumania. Katalin takes her son and embarks on a journey across the remote Translylvanian countryside, but she isn't intent on visiting her sick mother, as she tells her son, but trying instead to rectify the wrong done to her which has resulted in her life being turned upside down.

The film moves forward slowly through stunningly beautiful but wild and remote countryside, the sense of menace heighened by a hallucinatory electric drone in the background. When she reaches her first destination the film cuts to gypsy violins and wild dancing, it is not clear if we are in real time or flashback - the image becomes grainier, and Katalin has lost her distinctive headscarf. But soon the reasons become more clear.

Hilda Peter as Katalin is extraordinary, her finely wrought face switching easily from concern for her son, to apparent lust, to grim determination. Towards the end of the film, she reveals her story to Antal (Tibor Palffy), one of the men she has been searching for, and his doting wife. She tells her horrific story in a state approaching ecstacy, knowing that the revenge she is extracting is much more subtle than what had been brutally meted out to Antal's colleague.

And yet, Antal is reaching out for redemption himself through the son that is all that is missing in his own marriage, and through his gradual understanding of the past. Is forgiveness possible?
This is subtle, complex film-making, the story being told in a flash of the eyes, a shadow on the wall, yet a storyline that is remorseless in its determinism.

Peter Strickland produced, directed and wrote the screenplay, his first film. Remember the name....

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