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A traditional ballad becomes a powerful fable
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.