Thursday, May 13, 2010
Katalin Varga ***1/2
Director: Peter Strickland
Cast: Hilda Péter, Norbert Tankó, László Mátray
Roberto Giacomello, Tibor Pálffy, Fatma Mohamed
The best cinema usually sneaks up behind you while you least expect it; such is the case in Katalin Varga, a seemingly simple revenge tale that will haunt you with its poetic brutality.
The film takes place in Transylvania and begins when the title character (Péter) realizes her husband (Mátray) discovered he's not the biological father of their son Orbán (Tankó).
Without much ceremony he asks her to leave the village with her bastard, whom he refuses to see.
Katalin and her son leave with nothing but a horse drawn cart. She tells the child they're off to visit her sick mother but actually means to seek and take revenge on the men who raped her eleven years before.
In an efficient running time of 85 minutes, debut director, Peter Strickland, creates a vast portrait of womanhood, folklore and justice as Katalin represents the tensions created between the preservation of history and the fast moving times.
Péter gives a brilliant naturalistic performance and takes over the screen in unsuspected ways. With an enigmatic look, that recalls Tilda Swinton, the actress makes Katalin her own; a mysterious combination of raw sensuality, maternal instinct and avenging angel.
At the beginning of the film we wonder if she isn't acting out of selfishness given how easily she lies to have her way, then it becomes clear that she's on a mission that goes beyond her own will.
She mentions how she speaks to the forest that witnessed her rape and instead of taking her for some sort of lunatic, the words coming out of her mouth sound ethereal.
Péter does a fantastic job maintaining a balance between Katalin the woman and the concept. Given how much the director tends to manipulate the mood and suggest that we might be in the presence of supernatural forces, her performance is brilliant.
Strickland too is a mystery upon himself; a British director shooting a film in Hungarian set in the Carpathians isn't something you see every day and perhaps this is the reason why the movie is so good.
The idea that this foreigner comes to a strange land refreshes the whole concept of what we'd have expected if the film had been made by a local.
In Katalin Varga Strickland tries to grasp the prevalence of mythical elements amidst our society. This is why the film is set in a remote village where people live under common rules that would be immediately disregarded in our societies.
Yet when Katalin pulls out her cellphone to call her estranges husband, we're reminded that this film doesn't take place during the Middle Ages.
The beautifully subdued score and the haunting work of cinematography (there's a scene in a river that seems like a memory you never had) compliment a film that might very well be called a folk thriller.
When the film reaches its unexpected climax we realize that despite what we think is our better knowledge, Strickland gave his heroine the only fate she could've had, in the process reminding us that despite the technological advancements, nothing beats the power of good storytelling.