Review by Michael Edwards
SET IN the simultaneously harsh and idyllic countryside of Transylvania, Katalin Varga‘s story is one of revenge, family and humanity.
In some senses, it’s a very traditional tale as the heroine, along with her confused young son, is cast out of her village and seeks revenge on those who conspired her downfall so long ago. But in others, it transcends the genre that bore it and creates something that makes a real emotional connection with its subject.
The plot is a straightforward, linear one, with Katalin ejected from her home early on. Once she embarks on her long journey, she must not only overcome the trials faced by an outcast alone in the Romanian countryside, but constantly evades the questions of her son as he tries to understand where they are really going and why.
The twin pressures of survival and the desire to keep the love and respect for her son produce a consistent level of drama that underscores proceedings.
What makes this film resonate above and beyond its simple core is its humanity. Katalin is a woman out for revenge, her anger and hatred alternately sizzle and simmer; but she is also a loving mother and wife, who has only been driven to such lengths by misfortune.
Her character is not a mere plot device to weave a filmic yarn around, it is a recognisable, rounded and reasonable one with which we can all identify.
Similarly, the range range of people she encounters on her travels consistently help nor regularly hinder her but rather react, as you might expect, depending on the story and situation presented to them.
The real coup, however, comes with the ending. Without wanting to give too much away, the conclusion to Katalin’s journey is a far cry from the Western stand-off favoured by so many vengeance films.
Instead, it’s an all-too-human tragedy which forces everyone watching to reassess their grudges. The concoction of heady emotions infused to the complex situation makes for compelling viewing.
It’s not just the story that is praiseworthy though, the cinematography is fantastic. The vibrant vistas of Transylvanian countryside are punctuated with intense emotional scenes for which credit must be shared equally between cinematographer Márk Gyõri and the excellent cast led by Hilda Péter, whose energy and skills paint a picture that big budget films could only dream of achieving.
The overall effect is one of being raised above the considerations of normal life and into a poetic account of one person’s search for justice.
Additional flair is injected into the proceedings by scenes including a dreamlike party around a huge bonfire, and time-distorting shots of Katalin and her son on their cart as they travel the winding roads to their destination.
It’s not the most innovative film of the year, nor is it a genre-busting extravaganza. But it is a beautifully engaging story which will resonate with audiences for some time to come.
Running time: 85mins
UK DVD Release: February 22, 2010