22 February 2011

Katalin Varga *

I once tried to write a sort of crime-tinted road movie drama with a tone similar to this (though a story that was drastically different), and at the time it seemed like such a simple structure, something I could just belt out quickly and easily. Of course writing is never that simple, and the project gathers dust on the proverbial shelf and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but Katalin Varga makes writing a good dark-drama road-movie script look so effortless I almost feel ashamed that I couldn't complete my own. That's just an artifact of good, clean writing, however, because the truth is this is a very complicated story with some very complicated morals behind it. The characters are fairly one-track minded but never one-dimensional, and although the scenes are often efficient to the point of sparsity, the story doesn't lack for layers because of it.

There's a lot I could say for the moral world of the story here, but it really speaks for itself and anything I might say would really just be summarizing the drama for those who haven't seen it, and really they should see it. I'd say this falls in the Recommended If You Like category for fans of Kelly Reichert who crossover with fans of dark existentialism, but this film has also got a fair amount of Lynch's Inland Empire DNA just beneath the surface. The sound design is stellar throughout (turns out they won some awards for it, and rightly so), and the composition finds this great unexplored space between provincial realism and lucid-dream surrealism.

As to the story, the sequence of events is somewhat deceptively straightforward. In that, it reminded me of other Romanian films I've seen, like last year's Police, Adjective (though admittedly, this film is a Hungarian language film shot in Romanian Transylvania by a British filmmaker, and didn't quite feel like the "Romanian New Wave"), because both films seem more about the conversations that come after watching than the conversations or events that occur onscreen.

Anyway it's good. You should definitely check this out if you get a chance. It's dark and depressing, and yet kind of enervating all at the same time. But for a movie that I can call both realistic and surreal, that seems only appropriate.

Seen at the Broadway Metroplex as part of the Portland International Film Festival.

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