Down and out in Carpathian hills

The Northwest Film center is now showing yet another fantastic film thanks to the 34th Portland International Film Festival.

The Northwest Film center is now showing yet another fantastic film thanks to the 34th Portland International Film Festival. Director and writer Peter Strickland offers audiences a whole lot to chew on with his crime drama “Katalin Varga” (2009). A compelling plotline intertwines with convincing characters and breathtaking scenes to create this truly one of a kind film that will leave viewers stunned.

After Katalin Varga’s (Hilda Peter) rape is revealed to her husband Zsigmond, she is ostracized from her town. With nowhere to go in particular, Katalin and her young son Orban (Norbert Tanko) embark on an expedition that will lead them to the heart of morality. The two travel the Carpathian Mountains with no money, relying on the courtesy of strangers. Yet the nomadic lifestyle does not bother Katalin, as she has made it her mission to revisit those of her past with bloody plans. Before she knows it, her arrangements turn a sharp corner that no one expects and the concept of vengeance blurs. Before the audience can make a decision themselves, Katalin’s lies and sins catch up to her.

The plot is unsurpassed. The complexity does not triumph over the film’s believability. Peter’s amazing performance brings the audience into the life of a brave, confused woman who discovers a morality too complex for rules. This notion juxtaposes Katalin’s constant prayers to a God concerned with clear-cut commandments, asking viewers to reconsider the common notion of good and evil. Perhaps the most interesting technique the film takes advantage of is antagonist shifting. From beginning to the end, the antagonist continues to change. The unconventional use of character archetypes reiterates the film’s message on ethics.

Admittedly, this is not a film for all occasions, and definitely not for all ages. The overall somber mood is unmatched by any film I have ever seen before. Although it is not a tearjerker, “Katalin Varga” leaves behind a heavily dreary perspective of the world in which justice doesn’t exist.

The cinematography helps to establish the film’s mood of loneliness. The beautiful mountain scenery also sends chilling vibrations of solitude. This is a particularly useful technique for establishing mood in theatres. Although slow, the film is full of surprises and packed with subtle but powerful emotion. Its reverse time editing foreshadows events in a clever and slightly misleading manner. The editing is well done, all transitions are smooth and all scenes are significant.

Somehow, this film manages to accomplish several ultimate goals of different kinds of cinema all in one. First off, it is entertaining to say the least. Hollywood couldn’t ask for a better drama plot. Secondly, it is a work of art with its complex use of editing, scene manipulation and costume and set design. However, and most importantly, “Katalin Varga” successfully embeds the audience into the determined, disturbing mood of a life controlled by haunted memories. Managing to fulfill all three goals, “Katalin Varga” defines the perfect film. Like a good novel, it fills the mind with the story and all of its emotions unconditionally. For this reason, it is a marvel both for viewers and beginning directors alike. ?