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KATALIN VARGA

Director: PETER STRICKLAND

ROMANIA-U.K.-HUNGARY • 2009 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • DIGITAL • 82 MIN


THE BROODING LANDSCAPES OF REMOTE TRANSYLVANIA PROVIDE A SUITABLY IMPOSING BACKDROP FOR THIS ARCHETYPAL TALE OF PAST SINS COMING BACK TO SHAPE THE PRESENT.

So potent is the gothic atmosphere that you might imagine you were watching some rediscovered treasure from an Eastern Bloc archive, but in fact it’s the debut film of British director Peter Strickland, who shot this tale of vengeance on a mere £25,000 micro-budget gleaned from a family inheritance — no mean feat, even in this Hungarian-speaking part of Romania. Astonishingly, the end result needs no apology for its modest resources, its gripping narrative coiling around the cross-country odyssey of the eponymous heroine and her young son. We know from the opening scene that sinister men posing as the police are on her trail, but what she’s done to merit the attention won’t become clear until much later. She tells her boy they’re going to see grandma, but it’s obviously a cover for some ulterior design.

With its travel by horse and cart, and sundry fire-lit gypsy revels, all this could be unfolding at some distant point in the past, except for the car headlights breaking the spell now and again. There’s the timelessness of legend here, and a mysterious quality sustained by leading lady Hilda Peter’s central performance, which gives little away yet somehow signals an inner steeliness that’s not to be underestimated. The blend of resonant choral music and electronics in Steven Stapleton and Geoffrey Cox’s score provides the perfect aural complement to the story’s stomach-tightening foreboding. An arresting first feature. — Trevor Johnston.

Irish Shorts @ IFI
This screening includes Manus McManus’ elegiac Thursday Afternoon (2009), a film about a couple who have been together for 50 years. It won the Best First Short Drama prize at the Galway Film Fleadh 2009. (Ireland • 2009 • 3 min)

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