Groundbreaking yet subtle special effects fail to rescue “Mordburo,” an atmospheric hodgepodge that revolves around a secret vigilante organization whose founder decides to put an end to the group’s activities along with all its members. Evocative post-industrial settings in Sofia and a moody score that’s more coherent than the narrative are pluses, but ponderous tale is too arbitrary-cum-artsy to do much theatrical business.
That’s a shame, because pic’s widescreen imagery was originated on film, then digitized from end to end, computer-enhanced frame by frame and transferred back to celluloid, also a frame at a time. The result is a cross between “City of Lost Children”–style gloom and the output of a renegade color photocopier with its muddy greens and rusty yellows cranked up. Strange but never unfamiliar backdrops suggest a place where momentous and eerie things could happen but, alas, don’t.
In sonorous voiceover KMB (Philippe Clevenot) explains that he started the Mordburo (a made-up term that presumably translates as “Death Bureau”) to rid the city of unscrupulous scum. A mock trial precedes each victim’s execution, preferably in some creepy locale. Merciless by night, the Mordburo is made up of men who pursue unassuming trades by day: tailor, tram conductor, pharmacist, etc.
Honest woodworker Leo Stoychev (Maurice Benichou) applies to the group for help because his boss, Branco, won’t repay a hefty personal loan and may have had a hand in an accident that crippled Leo. Last hour of pic follows the cast’s only quasi-suspenseful meanderings through an ultimately tedious game of cat and mouse.
Meanwhile, Madame Behar (Ornella Muti) makes herself out to be “a simple housewife” who enjoyed looking after her much older, dumpy husband, a crooked lawyer dispatched by the Mordburo. Smitten by the fetching widow, Inspector Raoul (Patrick Catalifo) sets out to prove that her husband was no angel and his death no accident. The lovely Muti exudes a frustrating blend of the naive and enigmatic in the midst of theatrical mugs who look like they’re up to no good and act up a storm.
Krishna Levy’s tingly incidental score ranges from Stravinsky Lite to Bernard Herrmann-ish chords. Willfully seedy production design and innovative effects work are spiffy but hardly worth the effort given the material’s dramatic shortcomings.
Debuting helmer Lionel Kopp is co-founder, with d.p. Dominique Colin, of f/x and optical house Les Trois Lumieres, which has perfected illusions and widescreen processes for David Lynch, David Fincher, Lars Von Trier and Darius Khondji, among others. Effects house Duboi (“City of Lost Children,” “Grosse Fatigue,” “Alien Resurrection”) created so-called “digital Technicolor” for the film.