One of the most promising filmmakers to emerge from Central Europe in recent years, Martin Sulik creates films that are graced by eccentric characters, playful elements of unexpected magic and a charming folkloric flavor. All those qualities are again present in the Slovak director’s fourth feature, “Orbis Pictus,” but the meandering, obliquely allegorical tale about belonging represents a backward step into less accessible territory. Fest exposure is likely to be more limited than for Sulik’s “Everything I Like” and “The Garden.”
An “Alice in Wonderland”-type odyssey of enlightenment through an enchanted forest, the story follows oddball teen Tereza (Dorotka Nvotova), who is expelled from her boarding school for her difficult nature. Her journey across the Slovak countryside to the capital to find her mother is punctuated by idyllic spells and hazards, and by a series of bizarre encounters.
Those she meets include the stationmaster of an abandoned train station, a driver who destroys his van-load of dresses after presenting her with one, an old woman buried up to her waist in the ground as a remedy for pain, a wedding party with a melancholy groom still in his teens and a plump bride old enough to be his mother, and a company chairman hiding out in the kitchen of a restaurant while waiting for the dissenting board members to come round to his point of view.
It’s largely mystifying, and becomes only marginally clearer when Tereza arrives in Bratislava and finds her mother (Milka Vasaryova). Shrunk to Lilliputian dimensions, the woman hands down some words of hard-won wisdom before leaving Tereza to fend for herself again.
Although pic’s handsomely shot and initially quite captivating, the story’s ambling, far too unhurried progress ultimately becomes frustrating.