Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This semi-abstract serio-comic Hungarian film has no stated purpose. Without dialogue, it takes as its subject the human and animal life in an eccentric Hungarian village. The camera photographs people and wildlife at a level of detail that would make a National Geographic special envious. Just when we think this is a docu with an ordinary agenda odd details creep in, like a dead body at the bottom of a pond teeming with catfish and bullfrogs.
Hukkle makes fascinating viewing providing the audience is in the right mood; in a receptive atmosphere it plays like the weird marginal ruminations in a David Lynch film. It has an engaging good humor that never explains itself. The title Hukkle refers to the sound made by a hiccup. There's certainly nothing pretentious about that.
An old man named Cseklik Bácsi (Ferenc Bandi) sits outside his house and hiccups non-stop while an unusual day passes in his Hungarian village. We see the farmers, beekeepers, shepherds and other townsfolk at work. The local policeman investigates an obscure crime ... among the natural history-style footage of animals and insects, fish and fowl, we see a lot of meals being fed to a lot of husbands ... some of whom seem to be dropping dead.
In his delightful commentary, student filmmaker György Pálfi reports that while filming Hukkle, the local extras asked him what kind of movie he was making. When he replied, "A movie that explores the possibilities in cinema," they lost interest immediately! That's certainly the plight of abstract experimental moviemakers, all right - nobody understands them.
Pálfi and his crew do not fall into the category of amateurs or theorists lacking command of their medium. Hukkle is beautifully photographed and makes liberal use of camera cranes, Steadicam and an occasional dose of CGI animation. The director uses his visual freedom to create a perplexing world out from normal, or almost-normal events. With the only constant being unpredictability, we watch every scene waiting for tiny revelations and subtle surprises. The movie is obsessed with work processes Ð from close-ups of ancient sewing machines at work to things as interesting as harvesting honey from beehives or as banal as cooking a meal.
Nobody talks and there are no developed characters but we soon become aware that something is out of sorts. Husbands seem to be dying off with regularity, and the special emphasis on the meals being prepared for them make us wonder what the heck is going on. The film gives us no opportunity to put together a consistent theory. The policeman has a neutral expression on his face even when he catches a woman tending (I'm guessing here) an illegal still hidden in a cave. The idea that the film covers a single day is contradicted when sudden deaths are followed by two funeral processions.
Just when we think the film is settling on a particular 'character' or situation, another character wanders through and the camera chooses to follow them instead. We don't stay with any individual very long, as the camera prefers to wander in the grass with insects, or, with the aid of CGI, burrow into the ground to observe a little digging mole busy at his work. More CGI shows a plant sprouting in faux time-lapse animation. An even more ambitious sequence brings in a completely extraneous jet aircraft, which causes a virtual earthquake as it flies impossibly low, under a bridge too small for a sailboat. The event plays like a resumé reel for some very talented Hungarian computer animators.
Hukkle is just long enough not to wear out its welcome. We appreciate the remarkable scenes of animals at play or gobbling each other up; considerable time is spent on a huge (and hugely oversexed) pig that a farmer herds from one barnyard to another to do stud service for smiling pork fanciers.
We never do get a handle on the murder mystery, if there is one; the cop seems more interested in the pretty clerk downstairs than in writing a report. Director Pálfi leaves us with an amusing wedding scene in which a folk group sings a clever ballad ... about the wifely joy of poisoning one's husband with belladonna. Hukkle ends up as an elaborate joke, or a modern twist on an experimental Dadaist art film.
Home Vision Entertainment's playful DVD of Hukkle adds to the mystery of its contents. Director György Pálfi and cameraman Gergely Pohárnok provide an entertaining commentary (in Hungarian and subtitled) that concentrates on the mechanics of getting all those unusual shots but barely mentions what their authorly intentions might be. It doesn't seem to matter all that much.
Other extras aren't as rewarding. A making-of featurette is an overlong video journal of shots being made and farms visited. The 'pre-production footage' appears to be a collection of outtakes. Some production diary text pages refer us to a full online document, and a mysterious, textless trailer doesn't even give the name of the movie. Andrew James Horton provides a welcome text essay in an insert that gives a fresh, if not definitive, viewpoint on the film. I wouldn't think a definitive statement about Hukkle is even possible.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very Good
Sound: Excellent Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements: Commentary by director and cinematographer, making-of featurette, pre-production footage, production diary excerpts, liner notes by Andrew James Horton
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 1, 2005
Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.
1. Savant came upon the
David Lynch similarity before reading Mr. Horton's identical observation in his liner notes. Honest.
I have to go now, my wife is serving me some unusual-tasting stew and pasta.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson