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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 28 January 2010
The debut of Budapest-based but British film maker Peter Strickland, this Romanian drama is apparently based on a traditional Transsylvanian ballad. Katalin Varga (played with intensity by Hilda Peter), a young married woman living in a farming village, takes matters into her own hands after being mercilessly cast out of her home by her husband when he discovers that he is not the father of their son. Taking the boy with her, Katalin strikes out by horse-and-cart across the superficially idyllic Transsylvanian landscape, all pine treees and the sort of hay meadows last seen on a large scale in Britain in the 1950s, intent on tracking down and confronting the men whose actions have ruined her life.

The film proceeds at the start in a brief flashback and then a far more significant flashback pops up at the end which turns all we have seen on its head. The linear though mysterious narrative is further disturbed as hunter becomes hunted and Katalin's mission becomes ever more precarious.

Writer-director Strickland shows a visual and narrative confidence that belies his experience. He eschews flashy camera techniques or the injecting of his revenge film with unneeded violence or action sequences. His pacing is measured and the viewer has the chance to reflect on the part that the decades of the inhuman Ceaucescu regime may have played in fostering the harsh attitudes and actions that are on show here, and whether Strickland is cutting through to a deeper, dark nature of man lying below the political strata.

This is an unusual film, combining elements of psychological thriller with social comment. Recommended.
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With the current crop of cinematic super turkeys gobbling up our screens, it was a refreshing antidote to watch this exceptionally well crafted little film. You have to admire the British director Peter Strickland for the courage of his convictions. Unable to fund his project in England, he financed it with his own inheritance. He then had the inspired idea of filming in Eastern Transylvania in Romania, where he was able to make the film for a very modest 30,000 euros. This was a tightrope walking act of faith that deserved success. Even so, I would not give a positive review on those facts alone. The truth is that the finished product speaks for itself. It is a triumph and a credit to Strickland. For his first feature length film this is a very assured debut indeed, and I hope Strickland is able to expand on this promising start.

This short film concerns a young mother's quest to exact vengeance on two men who raped her ten years before, causing her to become pregnant. Shunned by her husband when he learns the truth, she travels the Romanian countryside in pursuit of the two men responsible. But this film does not follow any predictable Hollywood format. It is much more subtle than that. The films atmosphere reminded me much of the novels of Thomas Hardy, whose work it should be warned was not noted for happy endings. The Romanian countryside with its wonderful pastoral scenes of flocks of sheep tended by shepherd's, strongly enforced this feeling. I was also reminded of Grimm's fairy tales that had their origins in the myths and legends of those deep, dark and impenetrable European forests so lovingly depicted in this film. The scenes of the mist wreathed Carpathian mountains added hugely to the brooding menace of this film. You can easily see why they would have struck fear even into the hardened hearts of the veteran Roman legionnaires who once subdued this land. The use of the Romanian countryside for the location filming was a perfect move, and I hope other filmmakers follow Strickland's lead. The area is unchanged by modern farming methods and Hardy would have been familiar with many of the scenes shown in the film. I was particularly entranced by the scenes of rustic dancing, which was actually filmed in the gypsy village of Kommando. It looked and felt very authentic, which it clearly was.

The film was made using 16mm ARRI SR3 and AATON A - MINIMA. Now in all honesty I really haven't got the foggiest what that means. But I read this on the films credits, and was so impressed with the immediacy and sense of involvement this imaginative filming gave, that I felt I should make a note of it. The film also made effective use of fading in and out of focus. The story although simple enough, is made riveting by such methods. I kept expecting flashbacks to be used for past black deeds, but the director cleverly avoided this by such simple methods as a long scene simply probing the black forest depths, where you instinctively know that this is where the rape took place. Strickland shows all the hallmarks of the competent director who does not need to fall back on common plot devices and gratuitous violence to get an audiences attention. The acting is extremely natural and Helen Peter in the lead role was very impressive. She brought a haunting tragic quality to her role that would make her a natural for a Romanian "Tess of the D'Urbervilles". Perhaps most importantly, the film has a strong message at its heart. Revenge can come at a high price, and although a hard concept for many, the simple act of forgiveness can cleanse the heart, leading to a deeper fulfilment and a clear conscience. Perhaps five stars is a little generous, but I believe that Strickland deserves all the encouragement that can be lavished on him, so that he might produce more where this came from. Highly, highly recommended.
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on 6 November 2009
What makes Katalin and her son leave their native village and take to the roads? What happened in her past that comes back to haunt her?

The film raises these questions at the beginning in a sequence that shows the Transylvanian village and lifestyle of Katalin's home. From there we are taken on a journey with her that not only leads us through the beautiful countryside of this little explored area of Europe but also on a journey of Katalin's past. A single but devastating incident changed forever Katalin's life and world. Now she travels back to the scene of this incident and extracts a terrible revenge.

Her choices have far reaching consequences for the people she meets and those she seeks out. Principally it is those who are innocent and unknowing who suffer the greatest impact.

The film is mainly in Hungarian with some Romanian.
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on 18 September 2010
The theme of revenge is one that has effectively been played to death in cinema. Over the last few years, hugely successfully (in box office terms anyway) include Park Chan-Wook's 'Vengeance Trilogy', Kill Bill and Man on Fire. These films each attempted to paint this theme on a broad canvas but ultimately offered little to say on its subject matter.

In 80 minutes Peter Strickland manages to outstrip each of these films in this, his debut. That is outstrip them artistically, thematically and morally. Reminiscent in some ways of Tarkovsky in his use of sound and score to augment what occurs on screen, with a clear vision and purpose, Strickland has created a film that is at once gripping, beautiful, haunting and incisive. With economy of detail, we are asked a series of questions: how should we react we someone we know has been 'violated'? Do we have the right to carry out revenge when it can have repercussions on other underserving victims? Does violence beget violence? Is redemption possible?

That these questions are raised in a running time of 80 minutes, in a film this beautiful and gripping by a first-time filmmaker is highly impressive. It is one of the best films I have seen this year and does promise a career ahead for Peter Strickland. Please UK, can someone give him money for his next feature?
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 November 2011
Peter Strickland's debut feature is a very assured piece of work, and one which takes on near mythic proportions when one considers what he had to go through to get the film to the screen. As has been documented in some of the other reviews, and with supporting detail in various published articles, Strickland found himself travelling to the remote Carpathian mountains, working with a Hungarian cast (speaking no Hungarian himself) and trying to get the film made for around £25K by begging, borrowing and (probably not) stealing all the component parts (catering, transport, cast and crew wages,etc).

However, regardless of this remarkable backstory, the result is an intimate, intense and compelling story of Katalin Varga's attempt to take revenge against her past abusers, having kept her ordeal secret for many years. With impressive cinematography and convincing acting performances all round this debut effort is well worth catching.
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on 16 May 2011
This accomplished film directed by Peter Strickland, concerns a Romanian woman, her 9 year old son, and what happened to her ten years prior to the events in the film. Others have covered the story in spades, so I won't go into it.

I have to say that I found this film disquieting and claustrophobic but gripping. Lots of movies attempt to create a sense of pace, doing it through fast action scenes, violence etc. but in Katalin Varga this is avoided. There's almost no onscreen violence. The events unfold quite slowly. Instead the tension is cranked up by the excellent camerawork, lowering clouds, dark and threatening countryside, and a frenetic score. Combined with Hilda Peter's excellent performance, the result is an excellent thriller. And to its credit, the film's ending is not schamaltzy or happy. It doesn't even provide closure, at least not the way one might expect, but I think that it was very well done all the same.

Well worth watching.

Ben Kane, author of Hannibal: Enemy of Rome.
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on 26 March 2010
This film grabs your attention like an action thriller, yet the story-line moves quietly by horse and cart through the gothic and fairy-tale-like landscapes of the Carpathian mountains, a woman once raped seeking revenge. A story with a fatal logic, and yet a surprising twist at the end. Must be seen!
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on 9 October 2010
I watched this DVD last weekend - the film itself is beautifully shot with stunning scenery around the carpathian mountains. The acting in the film is superb - especially from the main character in the film ' Katalin' who portrays a woman whose past comes back to haunt her present. I did find the film very moving and visually stunning but I have to say it was hard going as the story line is quite bleak and although I do recommend this film it is not one I will be rushing to watch again any time soon as it did leave me feeling slightly empty. For any one that is a fan of good world cinema then this film is a must see, but you might want to line up a good comedy to watch when it has finished.
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on 22 January 2011
This is an amazing film. Hauntingly atmospheric. Some of the images are likely to stay with you for quite some time - so be warned! However, unlike most modern films there is very little graphic violence. The film relies on an excellent script, good acting/direction and the superb cinematography to tell the story. This is not a feel good movie and its rather abrupt ending left me in a state of sadness and shock. It is difficult to say if I would recommend this film to others because I am struggling to find much that is uplifting in the story. In some ways I wish I hadn't seen the film because some of the sadness is difficult to erase from my mind. I don't want to spoil the film for other viewers by giving too much of the story away.

It is beautifully filmed and for that I must give it 5 stars. The video quality is below average and the image lacks the clarity of modern dvd's - which is to be expected given the incredibly low budget for making this film. However, the sound quality is very good.
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on 4 May 2013
For those who wonder if a British director can ever make a high-quality European art (ie serious) film. This is the first film by a genuine auteur and it announces the arrival of a major talent. The struggle to get the film completed doesn't show in the gorgeous (if unnerving) final result. Stands with Bresson, and I never thought I would ever say that about a film by someone from Britain.
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