Nov. 24, 2004 - Issue #475: The Verge
I got the hiccup
There's no dialogue but lots of hiccups in free-associative Hukkle
Hukkle was the 29-year-old Pálfi’s thesis project and clearly a very low-budget affair. But far from suffering from such constraints, Pálfi thrives on the medium’s essentials, using carefully cultivated montages that evoke the earthy richness of Hungarian village life, pastoral and domestic images that, with the exception of the film’s remarkable subterranean and underwater sequences, were presumably easily accessible to Pálfi and his crew. Pálfi has a gift for finding wonder, humour and terror in simplicity, banality and everyday Darwinian struggle. (Eating is a recurring activity in Hukkle, and Pálfi portrays it in its full, disgusting brutality.) He does a lot with a little because he finds such unique, cinematic ways to weave together the many fragments he’s gathered. It makes for an impressive exercise in aesthetic reduction; in particular, Pálfi eliminates virtually all dialogue and focuses instead on heightened sounds, usually the sounds of the menagerie of animals—cats, dogs, geese, moles, horses, bees, frogs, fish—that populate Hukkle alongside its cast of humans.
This musical trail of sounds begins with the first of hundreds of hiccups that erupt from an gnarly old guy who lounges in front of his little house, where he takes in the passing procession of village life with the same amiable acceptance that he grants to the incessant involuntary contractions of his diaphragm. Appropriately, the film doesn’t (as you might presume) take its title from the Hungarian word for hiccup (csuklás) but from Pálfi’s own onomatopoetic word for the sound of a hiccup.
Language and literal meaning are not guiding factors here; instead, flow and play and instinct are what drive the film and give it purpose. As a result, the film has a curious placelessness, a feeling that what we’re watching could be unfolding in some sleepy village in any number of countries—you get the feeling that the simultaneously familiar and strange sights and sounds in Hukkle could have emerged from nearly anywhere.
Hukkle’s view of village life is a multifaceted one, with as many sinister undertones as there are displays of interdependence, grace and harmony. But while the film’s ongoing succession of unusual visual and sound connections provide us with a sense of community that lies beyond the understanding of the village’s inhabitants, it’s only available to those of us watching it all through Pálfi’s lens. Hukkle reminds me of Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby’s celebrated animated short When the Day Breaks, which draws similar parallels between individual characters (incidentally, also animals) that they themselves are not aware of. Hukkle, however, seems morally indifferent to what these labyrinthine interconnections suggest... though the folk song sung at the film’s close hints that there are darker notions at work in Pálfi’s imagination. V
Written and directed by György Pálfi • Starring Ferenc Bandi, Józefné Rácz and József Forkas • Zeidler Hall, The Citadel • Sun-Mon, Nov 28-29 (7pm) • Metro Cinema • 425-9212
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