Friday, 16 October 2009

katalin varga (w&d peter strickland)

A couple of girls giggle at Katalin when she asks them the way to the village in the hills. You don't want to go up there, they chortle. When she thanks them for showing her the way, they say, don't thank us, no-one wants to go there.

When Katalin gets to the village it turns out to be the sort of place Guardian readers (such as myself) imagine visiting for an eco-holiday. Transylvania is pretty, wooded, meadowed, just about beyond the boundaries of modern Europe. Accessible by car or horse and cart. You wouldn't want not to go there. Although made a few years ago, Katalin Varga is the second film released this year which suggests that there's something nasty in the woods waiting for us all. However, unlike Von Trier's pre-menstrual, pre-historic savagery, Varga's woods are pretty and enticing.

The film has been made on a shoe string and has been a breakout festival success. Whilst one takes one's hat off to the director for his achievement, and whilst his film has a self-contained, prosaic feel, miles from the Von Trier's extravagant dramatics, the narrative ends up feeling a little slight, and the denoument so understated it comes as a shock, though not a jolt. Whilst there's a concise folk-tale-ness to the ending, it was hard not to think that it disguised the lack of a third act. Also hard not to suspect that part of the reason for the film's success was the way in which it conveyed this seemingly pre-lapserian countryside, which turns out to be alluring rather than threatening to a European festival audience, no matter what it holds for Katalin herself.

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