A Byzantine allegory about a despotic regime seizing control of a sleepy Central European hamlet, “Dolina” boasts the most eye-popping production design this side of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.” However, Magyar helmer Zoltan Kamondi’s fourth feature needs an emotional hook to bring viewers into the pic’s sinister, intricately detailed world. Despite some powerful performances, this adaptation of a 1999 novel by Adam Bodor lacks a sympathetic character to identify with, making it seem cold and hollow. Item will be most at home in fests and national film weeks.
Bogdanski Dolina is a decrepit, stench-filled spot that, over the years, became a dumping ground, developing its own arcane laws and practices. Shaggy-haired barbarians (who’d be at home in “The Road Warrior”) guard its barbed wire borders as well as the distant internment camp for TB patients and other undesirables.
The guards receive commands from a bizarre ecclesiastical order, comprised of former military officers, known as the Vicarage. They dress in cassocks and wear goatee-like false beards attached by cords behind their ears.
The removable facial hair, general filth and libidinous men make Colentina Dunka’s beauty-salon-cum-bath-house-cum-bordello one of Dolina’s most essential establishments. Well-connected Colentina (Piroska Molnar, pic’s standout thesp) lusts after her attractive female employee, Natalia (Stefania Rivi), and contrives to part her from husband Vidra (Janos Derzsi). She also schemes to enable the return of her exiled foster son, Petrus (Milan Vajda).
As Dolina prepares for a visit from the archbishop, a stranger, Gabriel Ventuza (Adriano Giannini, son of Italo thesp Giancarlo), arrives. A distant relative of Colentina’s, he wants to exhume the remains of his notorious smuggler father, but is helplessly sucked into the cesspool of local life.
Additional plot strands follow a power struggle within the Vicarage between mysterious Mugyil (Zsolt Trill) and artistically inclined Archimandrite Kosztin (Janos Ban); an attempt to smuggle the elderly Senkowitz sisters (Mari Torocsik, Coca Bloos) out of the internment camp and into the arms of their Armenian relatives; and the unrequited feelings Gabriel develops for Natalia, and salon combing girl Mauzi (Ioana Abur) for Gabriel.
Kamondi’s success in creating a world of intrigue and betrayal as rotten as the garbage surrounding it owes much to his long-time tech team. Kudos go to the remarkable deep-focus camerawork of Gabor Medvigy, the Bruegel-esque vision of art director Gyorgy Arvai, and the surreal creations of costume designers Edit Szucs and Janos Breckl.
Shot on a mountaintop in Romania’s eastern Transylvania, pic took seven years from conception to completion.