H u k k l e

A Mokep production, in association with Fanyar. (International sales: Mokep, Budapest.) Produced by Csaba Bereczki, Andras Bohm. Directed, written by Gyorgy Palfi.

With: Ferenc Bandi, Mrs. Jozsef Racz, Jozsef Farkas, Ferenc Nagy, Mrs. Ferenc Virag, Janos F. Kovacs, Mrs. Janos Nagy, Agi Margitai, Eszter Onodi, Attila Kaszas, Katalin Balatoni.

. . .

An old peasant sits on a roadside and starts hiccuping in slow, rhythmic fashion; insects, animals and workers toil in the hot landscape; and slowly a weird murder mystery unfolds behind the serene banalities of village life in "Hukkle." Almost unclassifiable pic, with no dialogue and the look of a precisely shot ethnographic/nature documentary, is a true original -- the freshest pic in Budapest's recent Hungarian Film Week and a contender for major festival exposure. Beautifully shot, full of droll humor and at 77 minutes never overstaying its welcome, this could even get some theatrical exposure in specialized pastures.
The diploma film of 27-year-old György Palfi -- a student of producer-director Sandor Simo, who died late last year -- "Hukkle" is seen by the writer-director as a feature film, with all the characters "cast" in their parts in the same way as regular thesps. (For Hungarian auds, Palfi also includes, in small roles, pro actors such as Agi Margitai and Eszter Onodi, to underline his point.) But at the end of the day it's a unique goulash that keeps teasing the viewer and, late on, springs a couple of major, loony surprises.

Following an umbrous opening that sets up the idea of a hidden threat, pic settles down into the tempo of a leisurely docu, sketching the slow pace of country life during a hot summer day. Strikingly shot closeups of etymological life seem to augur some kind of Magyar "Microcosmos," but there's a feeling of something going on beneath the surface -- a gentle manipulation of the viewer that briefly cranks up a notch when the movie appears to break down during a segue to the village bar.

As an elaborate reverse tracking shot through a sewing factory shows, this isn't some caught-on-the-run docu, either. The soundtrack is highly worked, as well, bringing a sense of expectation to such mundane scenes as an old woman preparing a meal for her family. And then a kitten suddenly dies in the yard of a home.

At the 30-minute point, more dark imagery starts to pepper the film: a police car, a funeral, a bee absent-mindedly crushed to death between two fingers, a mole killed by a hoe. Fifty minutes in, the murder mystery reveals its victim, with other surprises to follow.

Pic almost requires two viewings to reveal its secrets, though Palfi's two brief f/x coups during the latter half work mostly on the basis on sheer surprise, given the film's largely placid, seemingly harmless surface. Performances are utterly natural, and considerable concentration is needed to work out the "plot."

Entire pic, shot around a village near Lake Balaton, was lensed in only 30 days, from a script that was a mere 15 pages. "Hukkle" -- pronounced "hoo-kleh" in Hungarian -- is an invented, onomatopoeic word, mimicking the rhythmic hiccuping of the old man that frames the movie.

Camera (color), Gergely Poharnok; editor, Gabor Marinkas; music, Balazs Barna, Samu Gryllus; sound, Tamas Zanyi. Reviewed at Hungarian Film Week, Budapest, Feb. 4, 2002. Running time: 77 MIN.