(Russian and Hungarian dialogue)
Peter Gothar, one of Hungary’s most consistently interesting directors, has come up with a visually dazzling but extremely puzzling comedy with the awkwardly titled “Letgohang Vaska: A Tale From the Lager,” which he describes as a Hungarian film in Russian. Winner of three major awards at the 27th Hungarian Film Week, for best film, director and cinematography, pic is unlikely to travel far because its hermetic vision of Russian-Hungarian connections is of purely local interest. Fests, however, may want to consider a program spot because of Gothar’s rep and pic’s undoubted visual merits.
The exotic tale unfolds in St. Petersburg during the Soviet era (when it was called Leningrad), and is spoken entirely in Russian; an offscreen Hungarian narrator translates as if telling a fairy tale.
There is, indeed, a fairy-tale quality to this strange comedy, which, judging from the title, appears to be derived from a mythical story that was told in the Communist labor camps, or lagers. But the mood is lighthearted as Gothar unfolds a quixotic yarn about the adventures of two thieves, one from the city, the other from the country, and a girl.
Seemingly able to fly over the city’s rooftops, these amiable adventurers break into the State Bank and rob the place. But it’s hard to discern a clear narrative in this erratic yet engaging pic, which is full of spectacular parades and crazy goings-on, including the temporary beheading of one of the heroes. The voiceover seems to rely entirely on allegories and puns that will leave the foreign viewer perplexed, to say the least, but which local viewers greeted with mirthful enthusiasm.
Still, even if the film doesn’t connect with the uninitiated viewer, it is certainly handsome and visually inventive. Much of it is shot as if it were an old black-and-white movie, complete with scratches and splices, though the color red is inserted into the otherwise monochrome images (red flags, for example).
Francisco Gozon’s location shooting in St. Petersburg brings that beautiful city vividly alive.