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BLACK NIGHTS 2021 Competition

Review: Perpetuity

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- This time around, Hungarian helmer György Pálfi offers up a dystopian drama of meaningless violence and obliterated life perspective

Review: Perpetuity
Tamás Polgár and Mercédesz Érsek-Obádovics in Perpetuity

Throughout his versatile film career, consisting of seven features since the anecdotal Hukkle (2002), which won him the EFA’s European Discovery Prize, György Pálfi has often played with the surreal and monstrous aspects of life, most notably in the shocking title Taxidermia [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(2006). After two rather (darkly) humorous films like Free Fall [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
(2014) and His Master’s Voice [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(2018), the director’s latest apocalyptic drama Perpetuity [+see also:
interview: György Pálfi
film profile
]
- which has just had its world premiere within the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival’s Official Selection - seems to be dialoguing once again, in stylistic terms, with Taxidermia’s body horror, juggling grotesque situations and characters, and implying perplexing meanings.

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The plot kicks-off at an airport – a sterile setting and a counterpoint to the film’s overall smuttiness – where a screen informs us about an ongoing war in Eastern Europe where planes are being air launched so that they eventually crash over the wrecked territory. Somewhere in decayed rural Hungary, armed warrior Oscenas (Tamás Polgár with a face expressing both indifference and disgust) rummages through the rubble of an aircraft catastrophe like a vulture sniffing out its prey, sifting through now useless objects from overprotected western lives, remnants from the last safe oases on earth that might not survive for much longer, as the overall atmosphere suggests. Later, he exchanges goods for cheap liquor and organizes alcoholic feasts in a military hospital, providing momentary joy for the distressed. Involved in a somewhat bipolar sexual affair with a nurse (Mercédesz Érsek-Obádovics), he also gets hooked by plane crash survivor Margitka (Júlia Ubrankovics), who has atrophied muscles and shattered brain activity, sharing her with a fellow villager in games of filthy eroticism. A straightforward protagonist with a straightforward though pointless trajectory, Oscenas doesn’t seem to be particularly moved by the disaster surrounding him, nor disturbed by the non-healing wounds on his back. He walks unperturbed through a rotten and twisted world inhabited by beings who have been dismembered and mentally devastated by the war, driven by the eye-for-an-eye principle. An aimless sniper choosing innocent targets and the sight of weird creatures such a wrinkled sphynx cat and unknown mutant animals, add to the eerie environment, enveloped in Tamás Dobos’s cinematography composed of repulsively fleshy close-ups and a dusty brownish palette. Oscenas seems to be an organic part of all this, and will soon become one of its weapons, too.

Basing the script on Sándor Tar's novel, György Pálfi, together with his partner and go-to co-scriptwriter Zsófia Ruttkay, once again demonstrate their talent as they create an original and imaginative, capsule world beyond all viewers’ expectations. During a hospital party scene where Hungarian flags are waved and drunken cries praising Hungary ring out, we’d be forgiven for assuming Palfy is delivering a subversive critique of Victor Orban’s current style of governance and nationalism. Although that might be true, especially considering the lack of state support received by the production, Perpetuity is anything but merely political. Attaining a more universally existential level by portraying perpetual inner fears, and without insisting on any one particular message, the film skilfully conveys a conscious or subconscious anxiety which hounds many of us these days; that familiar, common feeling, constantly fomented by the global newsfeed, that the world as we know it is going down the drain.

Perpetuity is produced by Hungary’s KMH Film.

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