Three novellas incorporating elements of resurrection, rural life and mystical realism are woven into a magic carpet of thought-provoking fables a la O. Henry or Rod Serling in the distinctively whimsical “The Porcelain Doll.” Different in style and content from writer-director Peter Gardos’ previous films (including 1986’s “Whooping Cough”), pic won the best director and Gene Moskowitz prizes at the recently concluded Hungarian Film Week, and could ride the coattails of the similarly striking but quite different “Hukkle” to numerous fests and limited arthouse success.
In the picturesque Hungarian countryside, onscreen name-scrawls and a visual encyclopedia of camera tricks introduce numerous photogenic villagers. The first of three distinct stories involves a gawky yet athletic 14-year-old red-headed lad who bests a series of visiting soldiers in various athletic competitions, only to be shot dead by the angry commander and miraculously brought back to life by his grandmother.
Pic turns monochromatic as a visiting state functionary (Sandor Csanyi, from “Kontroll,” one of the few pros on view) promises he can resurrect the dead, prompting the villagers to exhume a quartet of bodies with startling results.
Finally, an elderly couple outwits the authorities working to relocate them by literally disappearing into a field of wheat. In a charming coda, Tibor Mathe’s orange-tinted video images once again provide portraiture of what the credits refer to as “people living on farms.”
Pic is certain to be mentioned in the same breath as “Hukkle” for its arresting visuals and supernatural vibe, but the comparisons should stop there, as “The Porcelain Doll” is infused with a tangibly benign humanism. No Hungarian history is required to imagine that each of these parables roughly corresponds to historical instances of national unrest, though the film works on its own, independent of this knowledge.
Gardos, who cites Garcia Marquez and Borges as favorite writers, gained the trust of some two dozen villagers by living among them prior to filming, and clearly relishes capturing these distinctive, weathered faces in amateur performances of disarming honesty. Other tech credits are strong.