Monday, August 25, 2008

ON "OLD" DVD : HUKKLE (2002)

Hukkle is a foreign film in the truest sense of the word. Foreign to us in its unconventional style of storytelling, its rural-life pacing, and its perhaps impenetrable sense of humor. This debut from Hungarian director Gyorgy Palfi would stand alone as an cinematic oddity in any country, but there is a certain central European sensibility around it that feels specific to the region. No, I've never been to that part of the world, but Hukkle doesn't bear the mark of American, French, or Asian influence like other modern imports commonly do.

Palfi and cinematographer Gergely Poharnok were given carte blanche to express themselves however they saw fit. The pair, fresh out of film school (Palfi was only 28 when the film was finished), come off like wunderkind geniuses ready to splash into the international scene, and with their meticulously crafted set-ups, camera tricks, and tracking shots they make a good show of it. But like many egoist filmmakers making their first time around the block, Hukkle oftentimes comes off as overly showy.

Granted, the story is bare, and I suppose one could argue that Hukkle is pure cinema experimentation, but if that's the case, Palfi didn't bring enough originality of vision to the table. Is he a quality filmmaker or simply a highly competent technician (Hi, David Fincher!)? It remains to be seen.

As for the story... well, on one fresh viewing I don't think I can be of much help. But I'll give you a map. Let's see. There is a recurring man on a bench that hiccups ("hukkle" is Hungarian for hiccup), vehicles of industry, close-ups of insects and foliage, gorgeous captures of plated food that rival the vivid, merging colors of pie and ice cream in My Blueberry Nights, a dead man, a dead cat, a pig, some pig farmers... all soundtracked to the crisp sounds of the environment these subjects are in. The only discernible dialogue comes at the end when we are treated to two gorgeous Hungarian folk songs.

Perhaps there is something central going on here. My hunch is that there is. Despite my inability to connect the dots, Hukkle is endlessly watchable. It's possible to be so mesmerized by the movement that you forget to pay attention to the subtext.

No doubt though that Gyorgy Palfi leaves you with an itch to keep your eyes affixed on him. In an era filled with many, he stands out. His latest film Taxidermia ran the festival circuit, and generated buzz with its absurdist scenes of competitive eating, obesity, taxidermy, a penis that shoots fire, and more. I've yet to see it, but in comparison, Hukkle seems gentle and sweet. (Tartan USA was supposed to release it before they went belly up early this year).


Bob Turnbull said...

Fox, great review...

I went into this film totally blind about a year and a half ago (when it came out on DVD) and loved it. I thought it was even more successful at its intent than you did, but I suppose it did take an extra viewing...Looking back on a short review I wrote for it at the time, I compared it somewhat to some of Shohei Imamura's films in how it lumps mankind in with the rest of nature. All I know is that I was really really nice to my wife afterwards...B-)

I'm curious about Taxidermia as well, but I must say I'm also a little apprehensive - it sounds a bit revolting at times. It's a shame that HVE got bought out and no longer releases the load of undiscovered gems it used to (Hukkle was released by them at the time).

Marilyn said...

I absolutely loved Hukkle, which plays like a silent movie. Observation is all.

It seems sweet, but it's not.


The women of the village are poisoning all their men. It is based on a true story, and this time it's pretty close to the real story.

Fox said...

Whoa... you guys just kinda blew my mind. I feel dumb for having missed the essential cues there. If anything, it's a reminder to clear my senses before watching movies... especially ones w/o dialogue.


I like your observation of man mixing in with nature. It's making many of the scenes in my head resonate a more now. Just for starters, the early moment when the man sits on the bench and the camera details insects, a cat, etc. And whoa... if I'm not mistaken, the VERY first shot in Hukkle is of a snake. It's unfolding in real time here now.

Marilyn -

It's like I was duped just like the men in the movie. Sweet innocent movie = sweet innocent women. But it's not as it seems! Quite a slap to the head this morning... and I like it! :) Right now I'm remembering that guy that just collapses as he's walking down the trail.

Thanks to both of you for tipping me off!

Marilyn said...

It took a while for me to catch on, and when I did, I couldn't believe it.

Yes, I love that opening shot where you don't know what you're looking at for a long time. As the camera lens backs farther and farther away, you finally realize it's a snake. It's a great image - the proverbial snake in the grass biting all the men.

Austen said...

It cannot really have success, I suppose so.
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