Katalin Varga 15 (2009)
Dir: Peter Strickland; Starring: HildaPéter, Norbert Tanko, Roberto Giacomello, Melinda Kántor, Tibor Palffy
Not your typical ‘revenge’ film, Katalin Varga is an uneasy journey through the heart of rural Romania with a woman and her young son who have been banished from their family home. Katalin Varga is forced to leave when her husband discovers the child is another man’s and so begins the lonely, desperate struggle to gain some answers and retribution.
They travel slowly but surely across the country, the breathtaking scenery jarring with the brusque, suspicious ‘welcomes’ they receive from the fiercely insular rural communities encountered along the way. Shelter is provided grudgingly and a pervading air of threat created through us not quite knowing who Katalin is seeking and for what purpose. When she turns seductress on an odious man in a locals’ joint, Gergely, an ulterior motive for her advances is evident, and we draw closer to her intended kill and the reasons behind it.
The tension reaches it’s taut, uncomfortable climax when the mother and son are given shelter by a man named Antal and his amiable wife Etelka, living a blissful life together despite her inability to have children. Etelka discloses this to Katalin, wondering what the reasons for this could be, and Katalin reveals the answer whilst out boating with the couple. In a painful monologue she recalls the appalling attack she went through on the edge of a local forest ten years earlier which resulted in her son, appearing to drift into a trance as she describes what happened. Although we have half known the answer, the brutal reality is still almost unbearable, and provokes an examination of Katalin Varga’s actions and behaviour throughout – her many faces perhaps providing a shield for her inner turmoil.
The film is driven by a horrible secret that seems to be reflected all around : the long, lingering shots, the minimal use of sound, the loneliness, the suspicion. Though Katalin Varga displays immense emotional and physical strength, she is also a woman on the edge, vulnerable, a victim. The whole film is like a chase sequence, and although Katalin does her share of the chasing, it is perhaps inevitable that she will end up as the lone fox.