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Rated 3.01 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Magyar Mulligan Stew
by Donald Levit

Winner of several, mostly eastern European awards and its country's official Oscar candidate, Hukkle is a most strange mix. A first 35 mm feature for György Pálfi, only his second work at all in that format, it has been praised as "tantalizing," "beautiful," a "fiendishly clever contraption," dismissed by others as a jumble of too many genres, and cursed by at least one reviewer who wailed, "incomprehensible, what am I to write?"

All in all, not for everyone, but hard to remain indifferent to.

In "Hungarian with English subtitles (but not much)," the film has sound which is Magyar, but so low, backgrounded and hurried that a Hungarian viewer couldn't catch it, either. Pointing out "how emerges the secret from apparently random scenes," the twenty-eight-year-old director/writer conceives of his "fiction-based documentary" as a "symphony of noises, micro-stories organized around rhythm and voices that stand in for sentences stated."

Sound there is, plenty of it, in the almost idyllic montage of an ozora közseg, second-smallest category of village. Strikingly photographed, summer fields, woods and houses are surrounded by grinding, scraping, buzzing and flowing --bicycle, cart and industrial wheels; bees and bubbles; utensils on plates, bowling balls on pins, teeth on food; plants growing, wheat grains sliding, a peasant snoring, a cat miaowing -- and punctuated by a toothless farmer's (Ferenc Bandi) prolonged hiccoughs, or hukkle.

There are bits of non-nature black whimsy, such as a joyriding jet so low as to seem an earthquake, and shots of primitive industrial process, but Hukkle is more of a paean to the natural world, the cycle nearly at its most basic. Underlined by cinematographer Gergely Pohárnok's images of wheels, gears and spokes, animals tunnel or mate, live or die, eat smaller species that have in turn preyed on smaller yet.

From the arresting, though unintegrated opening credits set to the sounds of an uncoiling snake whose colors reappear in a sleepy wagoner's sweater, all is eventually captured in extreme loving close-up. Indeed, what might look like documentarian macrocinematography and opposed to deep-focus large lens, may have been accomplished by adjusting "focus pull," for frequently only a reduced point is sharply seen against back- or foreground or even peripheral fuzziness, accentuated by intentional re-focusing right before our eyes.

As the cycle develops and scenes, animals and people briefly reappear in and out -- pony-tailed police officer (József Farkas), apiarist (Ferenc Nagy), pig owner (István Baráth), cycling mail lady (Jánosné Gyri) -- a pleasant, if decidedly backwards, bucolic hamlet assembles. So casual is this exposition, in fact, that a series of unexplained deaths goes almost unnoticed at first. Among the eternal facts of their existence, the villagers do not remark on the death of a youngish hale grandfather, or of a farm cat. Nonchalantly, the camera passes over a man's body on the riverbed, while the policeman snaps what are crime scene photographs above. Feebly unable to button his shirt, a man leaves a clinic, and another suddenly keels over with his basket, dead on the chalk-dusty path. Black funeral processions mount and file right by the still-hiccoughing old man.

Wordlessly, like the film, only his hooded eyes conveying thoughts, the young officer puzzles it out. The solution, hinted at in a late wedding folk song, will lead him to confront the probable culprit, but even there the case is unsure. Such crimes must be inadvertent, but then again, are they? Crude feminism, or revenge, in the sticks?

Cradling the natural setting, lingering on textures of cloth and bark and craggy faces and fingertip whorls, in a highly unusual fashion Hukkle suggestively unravels its tale. Whether it succeeds depends on what the viewer brings to the film and his or her feeling for this sort of puckish seriousness. 

(Released by Memento Films; not rated by MPAA.)

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