Dir/scr.Benedek Flieghauf. Hungary. 2004. 160mins.
Dark, brooding and slow, Benedek Flieghauf's second film,recently awarded the Best Director prize in Mar del Plata, is God's gift tofestivals, a feast for film buffs and art houses and a test of endurance formisguided audiences seeking pure entertainment.
Thoseaccustomed to Hollywood and others' over-stylised view on drugs culture,replete with flashing guns and/or flying punches, will find it like a trip toanother planet that you will never want to visit again.
Thosewith more down-to-earth first knowledge of drug sub-culture will not be shockedby its despondent mood nor its forbidding length and instead appreciateFlieghauf's remarkable achievement.
Analmost abstract piece about a day in the life of a smalltime drug dealer, thisshadowy, over-stylised portrait of a world doomed to its own destruction andfeeding on its own decay will be loved by critics. If correctly handled, itcould develop into a must-see item for ambitious art exhibitors unafraid to goout on a limb, after successful festival outings at Berlin and Hungarian FilmWeek as well earlier this year.
Thoughshot entirely in Budapest, Flieghauf's approach makes sure no location isidentifiable, the schematic plot leading the dealer (Felician Keresztes), fromone place to another and one customer to another. It takes place in a kind oflimbo world that could exist anywhere, everywhere and possibly nowhere exceptin the filmmaker's own imagination.
He travels from a fashionable religious guru in urgent need of a pick-up beforeputting on a public performance to the hospital bed of a dying man who wouldrather OD than face the next treatment; from an old flame for whose addictionthe dealer may or may not be responsible to a gangster's hideaway where he isbeaten up by the cohorts of his client's sister. Other customers include astudent who wouldn't leave her bathtub for a whole week after tasting too manymagic mushrooms and his father who is about to lose his mind after his wife'sdeath.
Itmakes for a guided tour through a drug-induced purgatory, where every socialstrata and generation is duly represented and carefully observed, through thenarrow perspective of a junkie sub-culture.
Unlikethe wild, disjointed images frequently used in films about drugs culture,Flieghauf, who says he lost three of his closest friends to narcotics, leadsthis tour at the sober, measured pace of a funeral march, unflinchinglyexploring every stop he makes on the way.
Hedredges out of each episode every bit of pain, anger and despair that he can,refusing to adopt a moral stand. Flieghauf never judges nor condemns, butinstead ultimately proposes a compassionate, mournful version of what thisparticular world would look like, one day before the Last Judgment.
Shotentirely on HD, and making full use of the camera's flexibility, Flieghauf'sagonisingly long, elaborate takes echo the work of such luminaries as Bela Tarrand David Lynch, who are both credited for their inspiration in the end titles.Spare and minimalist in every sense of these words, Dealer induces a kind of sombre trance, rarely focusing on morethan two or three characters at a time.
Aswith his debut Forest, Flieghauf uses a non-professional cast consistingmainly of friends and acquaintances, preferring the immediate authenticityprovided by their physical presence to professional thespian skills, even insoul wrenching parts, such as that of Wanda (Aniko Szigeti), the mother of alittle taciturn girl who could be the dealer's daughter.
Thecrew's single-minded purposefulness helps immensely in generating thehallucinatory gloom, with Karoly Szatmary's handling of the camera workstanding out for its stunning chiaroscuro compositions and its fluidity.
Prodco: InforgStudio, Film Team
Int'l sales: Mokep - Hungarofilm Division
Prod des and music: Raptors' Kollektiva
Main cast: Felician Keresztes, Barbara Thurzo, Aniko Szigeti, EdinaBalogh, Lajos Szakacs