Robin Clifford Robin Clifford 
Laura Clifford Laura Clifford 

An old man sits by the road with a raging case of the hiccups. Sheep bleat in the field. A young woman sits outdoors eating, watched surreptitiously by a man. Women sew clothes in a shop while men bowl pins. A beekeeper makes his honey. A mechanical harvester reaps the wheat crop. A mill worker grinds the grain which grandma makes into dumplings. And, the police investigate murders in the small town in Gyorgy Palfi’s debut, “Hukkle.”

Newcomer writer-director Palfi has, if anything, created a unique piece of film work the first time off the mark. “Hukkle” is fictional piece, a murder mystery, which is structured and constructed like a cinema verite documentary of life in rural Hungary. The old man with the hiccups appears throughout the film like a Greek chorus, silent except for his ‘cups. Life goes on in the town with the women doing all the work while the men play games. But, there is a sordid underbelly to the outwardly quaint village and the tiny police force has its hands full investigating several murders.

Gyorgy Palfi shows an incredibly deft hand in creating a fictional story that, if you didn’t pay attention to the oddly told narrative, you could enjoy as a slice of life in rural Hungary. Actually, the documentary style is the most interesting aspect of “Hukkle.” There is virtually no dialogue until the end of the film and this silence carries a certain intriguing quality. But, though there is no talking, the film is rich in natural sounds (other than the old man’s hiccups). Sound is an important part of “Hukkle” and it is used effectively.

The fictional narration, surrounding the murders in the small town, is the weak part of “Hukkle.” This is due, in part, to the lack of dialogue to tell the story of the mystery. Instead of understanding the situation and keeping track of the intrigues, I found myself getting confused and I had to pay attention to keep track of things. This is a problem that would be resolved by repeat viewings, but that shouldn’t be a requisite in understanding the core story first time around.

“Hukkle” has a large cast that mostly gets little screen time – except for the old man  with the hiccups, of course – and takes a back seat to the sometimes-remarkable mise en scene moments and the fine cinematography by Gergely Poharnok. This is a film of look and feel rather than substance, unless you commit yourself to the aforementioned repeat screenings. It is an incredible display of budding talent by its creator, Palfi. I give it a B-.

A policeman (József Forkas) investigates a murder in the most rural of Hungarian hamlets where villagers harvest wheat and bowl in the local pub.  Is the murderer the beekeeper (Ferenc Nagy) who produces honey or the grandmother (Mihályné Király) who makes dumplings?  And who knows what is observed by the old man on the bench whose hiccups make a sound like "Hukkle...."

At the age of twenty-eight new writer/director György Pálfi's first film was selected to represent his country for the Oscar's Foreign Language film and won Best First film at the European film awards.  This engaging, almost entirely dialogue free fable is gives new meaning to the phrase 'dog eat dog world.'

A man working outdoor upsets a small army of ants, which are greedily gobbled by his goose. The gears of threshers, sewing machines and honey extractors churn round and round.  An old woman plucks a chicken in preparation for a large family mean while a cat scavenges stray poultry pieces.  Insects creep underneath unsuspecting people's clothes.  A woman tampers with evidence as a policeman checks out an abandoned fishing shack.  That policeman will make a most surprising discovery in a most unexpected place only to become resigned to the truth listening to folk tunes at a wedding.

Our assignment at an early film class was to produce an 8mm short which told a story without any dialogue or title cards.  That professor would have been ecstatic had he seen "Hukkle," a 'Hungarian language' film which doesn't resort to subtitles until the film's last five minutes, when the lyrics to two songs sung at a wedding celebration put everything which has come before in perspective.  Although he doesn't rely on words, Pálfi does make meticulous use of sound, sometimes with a creepy, Lynchian effect.  His visuals balance medium shots of people going about their daily business with closeups which could have come right out of "Microcosmos" and the occasional arty effect, such as when an overhead shot of neatly defined fields turning into film strips which form a doorway to a local shop.  Clever editing segues cheekily from the balls men are bowling with to those of a giant hog being herded down the street.  There are so many odd references tucked into "Hukkle" it becomes a complex puzzle masquerading as a simple tale which may require multiple viewings.

Don't forget about the old man Pálfi continually returns to - perhaps he's smiling because he knows enough not to try and remedy those hiccups.


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