Saturday, March 12, 2011

The inventive Hungarian Oscar submission: Szabolcs Hajdu's BIBLIOTHÈQUE PASCAL

Keeping up with the best foreign language film submission for the yearly Academy Award's ceremony is getting to be a nearly full-time occupation. But it's worth that time. For every outright bomb (Greece's Dogtooth, that made it practi-cally to the Oscar finish line by using transgressive sex to hook critics into going along for an empty ride) or so-so movie (Mama Gógó from Iceland, Germany's When We Leave), you're likely to come across a splendid film that you wouldn't be seeing otherwise. One such, and the subject of today's post, is Hungary's entry into this year's sweepstakes, BIBLIOTHÈQUE PASCAL. And a more beautiful, ugly, strange yet finally comprehensible movie you'll be hard-pressed to find.

That soon-to-be airtight wetsuit on the poster above (and in one of the stills below) makes for a breathtakingly creepy image and scene, and its use by writer/director (and ofttimes actor) Szabolcs Hajdu, pictured at right, is as shocking as it is bizarre. Part of a very high-end and exceedingly literate brothel at which wealthy clientele have all sorts of wishes fulfilled, the costume and its use allows Hajdu to give vent, I would guess, to some of his more grotesque fantasies. That these come side by side with others of delicious sweetness and light is what makes the movie so memorably odd. And the cinematography by András Nagy -- interior, exterior, natural light or created -- is simply stunning, frame by frame by gorgeous frame.

The story begins with a quietly distraught mother appealing to a social service worker for the return of her daughter, whom she had been left with an aunt of possibly less-than-sterling character. But then no character in this amazing movie approaches sterling, let alone silverplate or brass. You could, if you were so inclined, cal this movie a treatise on how precarious is survival in the Eastern Block -- whether yesterday, today or tomorrow.

And so our heroine Mona (a fine performance from Orsolya Török-Illyés, above, that combines strength and steely beauty in equal doses) begins her explanation to the social worker.

From the first, this seems a phantasmagoric tale of love, jealousy and betrayal, followed by a quick, then an even quicker, change of partners.

Which leads to a night of passion (and more great visuals!) with a very hot, but not long-lasting criminal named Viorel (Andi Vasluianu, below), which leads to the birth of that child.

Men, we quickly learn, are not to be trusted, most of all one's own father, below, who makes a very dirty deal, regarding Mona.

And this takes us to the titular bibliothèque -- a combination of the high-tech and old-fashioned bordello sleaze, the highly literary and torture porn -- that provides some of the most beautiful and creepy scenes in the film.

Hajdu creates an almost constant tension between the gorgeous visuals we love to watch and the subject matter, which grows darker and darker.

The climax -- which involves that wet-suit,

along with a marching band (above) -- culminates in an amazing, funny/sad view of a group people in the street that is one of several shots in the film that I suspect will find a permanent place in my movie memory bank. And the ending? Ohmigod: quiet, sweet, sad, surprising perfection.

But what does all of this mean? Ask that social worker, who takes this wild fantasy and tries to provide it with more "real" details, in order to help Mona. Yet it may be mankind's very ability to spin fairy tales, dark as they are, out of our worst woes that allows us to keep going. Ask Mona, and Mr. Hajdu, who've spun one of the most spectacular of all in this movie that ought to have at least been shortlisted for "Oscar" glory -- and which you really must see.

But how? According to the film's U.S. distributor, GoDigital Media Group, you can click the SAVE button on the film's Netflix site -- and hope that the service gets the DVD and adds it to its streaming facility soon.  Meanwhile, you can rent and download Bibliothèque Pascal via iTunes (and with cinematography this good, I'd pay the extra buck for the high definition version).

No comments: