A young car mechanic stuck in a Hungarian border town in the late '90s tries to overcome his circumstances.

A young car mechanic stuck in a dreary Hungarian border town in the late 1990s tries to overcome his circumstances in “Lost Times.” This modest but affecting debut drama from Magyar writer-helmer Aron Matyassy pairs an impressionistic visual style with a gritty, realistic story and showcases a slew of young talent. Slated for release on home turf in the fall, the Hungarian Film Week top prize-winner should be found at upcoming international fests and on Euro TV.

Stubborn twentysomething Ivan (Jozsef Kadas) lives with his autistic sister, Eszter (Terez Vass, the helmer’s wife), in a brutish village near the Ukrainian border. (As he notes to a friend, it’s the kind of place where “the stronger dog fucks.”) With road crews about to start a new highway nearby, Ivan sees an opportunity to open a gas station but lacks the capital. Hoping to build a nest egg, he smuggles diesel across the border.

When Eszter is raped while wandering in the forest, the local cops, rather than solving the case, make things more difficult for the beleaguered siblings. Meanwhile, Ivan reaches the end of his tether after being dumped by ambitious student Ilus (Eszter Foldes) and threatened by the local mafia, who want to maintain a monopoly on service stations.

Matyassy’s script credibly captures the thwarted, dead-end quality of village life that only a select few seem able to escape. It also makes inevitable Ivan’s decision to take justice into his own hands. Less plausible are the pure-child-of-nature characterizations of Eszter and the idealistic hippies homesteading nearby. Nevertheless, these characters inspire the sun-dappled imagery, reminiscent of the films of Terrence Malick and Bruno Dumont, that makes the pic stand out visually from the many others that deal with similar themes.

The three young leads, all relative newcomers, bring an impressive physicality to their roles. Marianna Szalay also makes a strong impression as the local barkeep, who, like Ivan, is too burdened with family responsibilities to leave town.

Lyrical lensing in a soft, slightly color-faded palette by Mate Herbai (who also did stellar work on last year’s “The Investigator”) leads the fine craft credits.

Lost Times

Hungary

Production

A UnioFilm production with the support of MTV, Motion Picture Public Foundation of Hungary, Ministry of Education and Culture, Erste Bank, Magyar Filmunio. (International sales: UnioFilm, Budapest.) Produced by Istvan Bodzsar. Directed, written by Aron Matyassy.

Crew

Camera (color), Mate Herbai; editor, Zoltan Kovacs, music, Albert Markos, Veronika Harcsa; costume designer, Janos Breckl; sound (Dolby Digital), Gabor Balazs. Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (East of the West -- competing), July 5, 2009. (Also in Hungarian Film Week -- competing.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Jozsef Kadas, Terez Vass, Eszther Foldes, Marianna Szalay.

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