Dir: Gyorgy Palfi.. Hungary. 2002. 75mins.
An authentic one-off - think Microcosmos meets Twin Peaks - Hukkle starts out as a serene, naturalistic portrait of rural life. But it slowly morphs into something much more sinister, as apparently disconnected scenes gel into a murder investigation whose key events unfold in the background and on the margins of every shot. Entirely without dialogue, the result is an oddball mix of deadpan comedy, documentary and a cunning thriller which requires several viewings to pick up on all its clues. The movie's eccentricity and complete absence of dialogue (and consequently subtitles) are both its chief assets and its trickiest features: distributors will need all their ingenuity to put over its unique qualities. But word-of-mouth and further kudos could nudge it towards cine-literate audiences who will savour the surreal humour, technical sophistication and witty play on narrative.
A natural for festival exposure, Hukkle has begun an extensive worldwide tour (outings so far include Toronto, San Sebastian, Chicago and now London) following its launch at the Budapest Film Week in February, where it was voted Best First Film. A runner-up for San Sebastian's New Directors award, it also named last week as Hungary's official entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.
One of a new generation of young Hungarian film-makers to emerge under the tutelage of the producer-director Sandor Simo (who died last year and to whose memory Hukkle is dedicated), the director-writer Gyorgy Palfi explains that the film is inspired by those trompe l'oeil pictures which depict different objects depending on how or which way up you look at them.
Its opening scenes create a symphony of the sounds heard in a sleepy village at the height of a glorious hot summer. An old man sits by the road suffering from a chronic attack of hiccups, insects and animals go about their daily business, a milkman delivers his cargo, a beekeeper gathers honey, pigs copulate noisily, a harvester rolls across the field, women work in the dressmaker's shop, an ancient grandmother prepares a tasty goulash for her family - and, one by one, the men keel over dead.
As in the best murder mysteries, all is not as it seems beneath this world's idyllic surface. Gradually the audience detects elements of a conspiracy in which most of the villagers, especially the women, are silent accomplices - as a folk song in the film's delicious sting-in-the-tail ending reveals.
The core idea is perhaps a little slight, but its immaculate execution and the wealth of comic invention ensure that Hukkle (which runs to a crisp 75 minutes) never flags. Handsome cinematography, finely crafted sound design, sparing but striking special effects and some marvellously inventive sight gags all compound the film's multiple pleasures.
The title, a made-up word derived from the Hungarian for 'hic', refers to the old man who frames the story - and who is himself quite possibly one of the next murder victims. More broadly, it evokes the unsettling hiccups beneath the placid surface of this village community (played by a cast of largely non-pros), whose sound is also amusingly incorporated into the end credit music.
Prod co/int'l sales: Mokep
Exec prod: Csaba Bereczki
Prods: Andras Bohm
Scr: Gyorgy Palfi
Cinematography: Gergely Poharnok
Ed: Gabor Marinkas
Music: Samu Gryllus, Balazs Barna
Main cast: Ferenc Bandi, Jozsefne Racz, Jozsef Forkas, Ferenc Nagy, Janosne Nagy