Strangled: "It’s a dangerous place"
by Fabien Lemercier
- Distributed by Big Bang Media, the dark thriller by Arpád Sopsits is off to a great start at the box-office despite having an 18 certificate
After having its world premiere at the Warsaw Film Festival and being released across 42 screens last week in Hungary by Big Bang Media, the very dark Strangled [+see also:
film profile] by Arpád Sopsits has started off in fifth place in the box-office rankings in its first weekend of being shown, with 13,954 admissions, a very good result for a film that was "penalised" by having an 18 certificate forced upon it. It has to be said that the director, who rose to prominence at Directors’ Fortnight in 1990 with Shooting Gallery before going on to make Video Blues (which featured in competition at Locarno in 1992), Abandoned (which won the Grand Prix at Montréal in 2001), and The Seventh Circle (presented in the East of the West section of Karlovy Vary in 2009), is not afraid of taking his portrayal of necrophilic sexual assaults to excess, drawing his inspiration from true events that took place between 1957 and 1967 in the small provincial town of Martfu, where a serial killer is on the loose, making things difficult for investigators who are under immense pressure from the communist powers of the time, between the uprising in Budapest and the Prague Spring.
A political background that the director (who also wrote the screenplay for the film) skilfully puts across, and which explains the miscarriage of justice we see at the beginning of the film in the wake of the first murder that opens the film and sends Akos Reti (Gabor Jeszberenyi) to prison for life after initially being sentenced to death by hanging, a rushed trial and the confessions of this dismissed lover of a local shoe factory worker. But seven years later, the murders resume and young prosecutor Zoltan Szirmai (Peter Barnai), who is leading the investigation, slowly but surely updates the modus operandi, which leads him to reopen the file on Akos Reti (whose prison sentence starts with him being sexually assaulted with a plunger in the showers and leads him to attempt suicide).
Investigations in deep waters which dredge up the past and most notably upset Inspector Bota (Zsolt Anger) and ambitious district attorney Gabor Katona (Zsolt Trill), who wrapped up the first case rather hastily to meet the demands of a State wanting to prove its effectiveness just to keep the hopes of the revolution in check. Pressure ("no one will congratulate you if the truth comes out")and inter-service espionage come into play as the serial killer, Pal Bognar(Karoly Hadjuk), a father who is initially above suspicion, stacks up more and more assaults and crimes in a sinister addictive spiral.
Brilliantly directed, most notably thanks to the remarkable work of director of photography Gabor Szabo, with its striking nocturnal scenes and an excellent reconstruction of the times in which these events took place, Strangled is a thriller not without formal qualities and intensity, built on a screenplay that moves forward relatively astutely along three trajectories (those of the innocent man, the investigation and the killer). Nonetheless, the trashier aspects border on repetitive overindulgence and the narrative intertwining of the various plots is at times somewhat forced (above all the character of Akos’ sister and the meeting in the visiting room between her and the real murderer) for a film which clearly aims (and succeeds) in producing real impact by deliberately playing on disturbing and even unpleasant phenomena.
(Translated from French)
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