Sunday, January 3, 2010

Katalin Varga (2009)

Newcomer Brit Peter Strickland's debut is a European folk tale masked under a road movie / horror guise. The discordant soundtrack, slightly reminiscent of Johnny Greenwood's work on There Will Be Blood, adds to the dark and intense atmosphere. And with a short running time (only 82 mins.) it never outstays its welcome.

Katalin Varga is a young mother with fierce, penetrating eyes. When rumours begin circulating among her fellow villagers in Transylvania, her proud husband wants her and her "bastard son" gone, so that his already-tarnished name could retain some of its standing. Katalin then jumps on his wagon with her son and embarks on a journey of revenge and redemption.

Strickland's visuals are nothing short of extraordinary - the lush, dense forests of Transylvania become walls that trap the wagon and the mother and son need to snake along the paths permitted by this dark force. The Eden in Lars Von Trier's Antichrist was an artifice - an aesthetically designed forest that serves a specific and assigned purpose for the story. Here, the dark force that is the forest is a natural, for want of a better word, part of this landscape. There are sporadic scenes of violence, but they happen just out of the camera's vision. Strickland, to his credit, prefers to linger somewhere close by, which adds to the eerie atmosphere perfectly.

The only thing that lets the film down is its dialogue - more often than not the events seem to be force-fed to the audience, when the visuals and the pitch-perfect acting should suffice. The one exception to this is the finale, when the gruesome reality is finally revealed to us in a to-the-camera monologue by Katalin Varga, played by another debutante Hilda Peter. If this films is anything to go by, the director and his leading lady will have exceptional careers ahead of them.

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