Reviewed at Hungarian Film Week, Budapest, Feb. 7, 1994. Running time: 81 MIN.
A blackly ironic look at the current knife-edge situation in the Balkans, “Utrius” reps an only partly successful attempt by maverick Magyar director Ferenc Grunwalsky to meld experiment and allegory. This vid-to-35mm/transfer is of interest only to recherche fests and students of the offbeat.
Film begins in 1914 with the teenage Pal Utrius being drafted into the military. Before leaving, he consummates an incestuous love for his sister, to whom letters home form the basis of his inner turmoil and desires.
The combo of rigorous barracks life and the outbreak of World War I makes him seek escape via an appendix operation. Twist is that he gets blood poisoning from unsterilized instruments and dies. Bleak coda posits the wheel of history turning anew, with an outbreak of world war in summer 1994.
Unspoken parallels between Hungary’s attempts at a “new life” and the current bloody situation in the former Yugoslavia (where the Sarajevo assassination spawned WWI), are there for the taking but hung on a weak, already oblique storyline. Episodes of raunchy sex and misty missives to the sister/lover back home lack Grunwalsky’s usual Godardian verve.
Performances are OK within the film’s limitations, and buffs will note an intriguing cameo by well-known director Istvan Szabo as an army doctor. Vid transfer process, supervised by Grunwalsky himself, is excellent in close-ups but loses definition in longer shots. Extracts from WWI newsreels pepper the pic in a rather obvious way.