Two priests in a pre-WWI Hungarian boarding school clash over disciplining their rambunctious charges in this uneven drama.

Two priests in a pre-WWI Hungarian boarding school clash over disciplining their rambunctious charges in the uneven drama “Prank,” from vet Magyar helmer Peter Gardos. Pic evokes an atmosphere of anxiety, claustrophobia and peer pressure, but the disparate elements of this parable about power, control and human behavior never quite gel. Second-tier fests and national film weeks rep the most likely venues offshore.

Set in 1912, as rumors of Balkan discontent reach the hinterlands, popular Father Zoltan (Lorand Vata) is distracted by the thought that his brother may have gone down with the Titanic. Meanwhile, his seventh-grade boys direct some unkind bullying at shy, bespectacled Szebeni (Marci Kiss, strong). When new P.E. teacher Father Weigl (Tamas Lengyel) takes measures to curb their anarchic behavior, tragedy ensues. Odd camerawork (extreme closeups alternating with high overhead shots and static long shots) works against audience involvement, as does the fragmentary script and miniscule character development. The most interesting moments involve insolent student fantasies visualized in the manner of a zoetrope; bully Racz (Gergely Bakai) and wannabe poet Geczy (Mate Nagyistock) stand out among the youth cast. Tech credits are pro.

Prank

Hungary

Production

A Magyar Television, Tivoli-Filmproduction production, with the support of Magyar Mozgokep Kozalapitvany, Oktatasi, Ministry of Culture. (International sales: Tivoli Filmproduction, Budapest.) Produced by Denes Szekeres, Gyorgyi Nagy. Executive producer, Zsolt Monostori. Co-producer, Pal Sipos. Directed by Peter Gardos. Screenplay, Zsuzsa Biro, based on the novella by Dezso Kosztolanyi.

Crew

Camera (color), Laszlo Seregi; editor, Mari Miklos; music, Florence Caillon; production designer, Peter Horgas; costume designer, Marta Janoskuti. Reviewed on DVD, Chicago, Oct. 23, 2009. (In Chicago Film Festival -- competing; Hungarian Film Week -- competing.) Original title: Trefa. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Lorand Vata, Tamas Lengyel, Marci Kiss, Gergely Bakai, Mate Nagyistock, Andres Csonka.
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