The time-honored tale of young lovers on the run from the law gets a thoroughly modern Central European makeover in director Krisztina Deak’s provocative yet determinedly low-key character study, “Who the Hell’s Bonnie and Clyde.” Based on a recent true story, and told through a fragmented narrative that emphasizes the fugitives’ emotional bond over actual gunplay, drama will make a modest name for itself rewarding attentive auds on the fest circuit but will have a more difficult time nabbing much B.O. ahead of respectable homevid life.
The action starts mid-escape, with young couple Lili (Ildiko Raczkevy) and Papi (Gabor Karalyos) eluding the law through pluck and luck, as the former breathes “you saved me like a Bruce Willis” to her more taciturn lover. Story emerges that the two have somehow relieved a bank in the town of Miskolc of some 50 million forints ($260,000), though the actual circumstances of the heist are reserved for the last reel.
Because their crime was committed in a rural setting, the pair are able to elude capture and live a life of conspicuous consumerism and lots of snuggling in a series of apartments they inevitably vacate just ahead of the cops. Along the way, they befriend a thrill-seeking couple (Mate Haumann, Gabriella Hamori), who prove to be their undoing.
Though it’s easy to interpret Deak’s approach to the material as just another tale of puppy love in a genre setting, she’s got two aces up her sleeve. First is a shrewdly-structured script that pays knowing respect to both Sam Peckinpah’s “The Getaway” (in a climactic vault scene) and Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde.” A pair of clips from the latter illustrate just how far on-screen portrayals of star-crossed lovers have come since that landmark pic.
Helmer’s second strength is a breakout leading turn by young Raczkevy as the nubile, headstrong Lili. A newcomer chosen from nearly 500 teenagers who read for the part, she’s a natural in the young Bridget Fonda mold, showing a feral intensity while both loving her man on the lam and refusing to rat him out while in prison. As the quieter Papi, Karalyos shows just enough boyishness to earn auds’ sympathies, while Haumann has a memorable first scene as an oily gun dealer.
There’s a hand-held urgency to Tibor Mathe’s skilful camerawork that amplifies the central couple’s plight. Real-life robber Tunde Novak, on whose memoir pic is based, recently began an 11-year sentence for the crime; her partner committed suicide shortly after being incarcerated.