MUTE POINT

Movie: Hukkle

Our Rating: 3.50

Its title is meant to suggest a hiccup, and that's one of the only sounds you'll hear the human voice apparatus emit in Hukkle, Hungarian director György Pálfi's minimalist inquiry into village life. Speech communication is limited to snatches of atmospheric background chatter, TV broadcast babble and a plaintive wedding song as Pálfi strings a series of day-in-the-life vignettes into a deceptively tranquil biography of a rural community. The song's lyrics appear on the screen, but that's all we get in the way of subtitles; the ominous sound of buzzing flies thus carries as much usable information as anything a man's or woman's lips can produce.

On the surface, it may look as if Pálfi has crafted a faux documentary whose sole rationale is immersion in old-world rhythms and routines. That's the initial impression one gets from the loosely connected shots of village folk performing chores and fixing meals while animals act out their most basic instincts. But what the filmmaker is really up to is the removal of cues – the verbal morsels and other narrative elements we automatically seek out as signposts to meaning.

Or perhaps "clues" would be a better word, since Hukkle gradually and cleverly reveals itself as a wordless murder mystery. Look carefully at the (seemingly) random close-ups of local rituals, and you'll notice that something is amiss in this hamlet. A poison of uncertain origin is making its way through the ecosystem, its true nature concealed somewhere in the background of the action. Or is it the foreground? Not knowing what to concentrate on or where to focus our gaze makes everything that happens appear sinister, from the delivery of a mysterious package to the alighting of the smallest insect. The movie is an enriching, lovingly filmed exercise in disorientation, worth seeing more than once if you've got the time, money and patience.

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