07 January 2010
Peter Strickland’s mesmerising, timeless revenge thriller is a stunningly original debut and one that will surely garner an appreciative DVD audience.
The British auteur has meshed an intelligent and humanist work with a relentless, story structure filled with memorable, taut scenes. When at times it seems as if the narrative is about to veer off course, it always comes straight back with a precise, distilled form of suspense. It is by no means a ‘thrill-ride’ of a movie – it is after all a film with it’s roots in the art-house - but the intensity of the journey is gripping and stands up favourably to repeated viewings. The cinematography is at once impressive; beautifully capturing the dreamy pathways and surreal shadows that lie in wait in the Eastern European landscape of the Carpathians.
The film deals with crime; the nature of crime, the nature of revenge and, of course, punishment. In essence, it’s a Dostoyevskian folk-tale set in the Romanian countryside; a curious world where horse drawn carts mingle with mobile phones. It is also a profoundly sad piece, a study of how frail and fickle human relationships are and how men regularly mistreat and abuse women with depressing predictability.
Our protagonist (a strong, commanding performance from Hilda Péter)had been raped by two men in the past. This brutal incident results in a child, who Katalin brings up with her husband as their own. When the truth (which she has been hiding for ten years) comes to her husband’s attention he casts her out, unwilling or unable to cope with the facts of his son’s parentage. Katalin vows revenge on the rapists and, taking her only son in her old-fashioned wagon, she sets off down the road to find them and...to kill them.
It is a challenging film – one that challenges our idea of justice and right and wrong. Father figures switch places, police officers are unknowable and friends appear as enemies. In many ways a bleak film; then, implying as it does that in the end personal morality (no matter how twisted) is better than none at all, but a powerful film never the less and, ultimately, an enormously satisfying one.