Latest Review – Strangled [A martfüi rém] [61st BFI LFF] [Thrill]

STRANGLED [A martfüi rém]

Director: Árpád Sopsits

Writer: Árpád Sopsits

Producer: Gábor Ferenczy, Attila Tõzsér

Cast: Károly Hajduk, Péter Bárnai, Zsolt Anger

Genre: Drama | Thriller • Year: 2016 • Country: Hungary • Running Time: 120 minutes • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 • Image: Colour • Language: Hungarian

UK Distribution: Eureka Entertainment

Unsettling and brilliantly atmospheric, writer-director Árpád Sopsits’ disturbing, psychological period-thriller, Strangled [A martfüi rém], takes its inspiration from a series of gruesome real-life events that shook the small industrial town of Martfü, Hungary in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

In 1957, a man is sentenced to life-imprisonment when the body of a young woman is found dumped in a nearby river. Seven years later the bodies of several other young female victims are discovered in the town bearing identical injuries. When the ambitious new supervising prosecutor realises there may be a link to the ’57 crime, and that they may have convicted the wrong man, he asks to re-open the original case, though keen to protect his own reputation (and position), the corrupt district attorney (who gained promotion following the original case) refuses and obstructs the investigation.

What then follows is a powerful examination of the flawed justice system in a post-war, Communist-era Hungary as we witness the clinical, calculating actions of the free killer juxtaposed with the gradual, psychological decay of a man wrongly incarcerated for a crime he couldn’t possibly have committed and caught in a wave of legal corruption.

Strangled is a bleak and desolate film, and certainly not for the squeamish (prepare for considerable amounts of unrestrained violence and necrophilia), with the desolation cleverly reflected in the designs and decorations, Márk Moldvai’s eerie score and the austere shoe factory where the vast population of the community – and victims – seem to work.

It’s a cold and grisly tale (one that almost every country unfortunately seems to have lurking in its murky history) faithfully and sensitively rendered by Sopsits following months of careful research and meticulous, detailed planning.

Cinematographer Gábor Szabó does a great job lensing the film, combining a mix of close-up, mid-length shots and long takes, to enhance the unsettling atmosphere and intense, lengthy silences that occur throughout the course of the film.

Grounded by a strong sense of autheticity and realism, and remisincent of David Fincher’s superb, slow-burning Zodiac with its central themes of obsession, conspiracy and pursuit (though without the Hollywood gloss), Sopsits’ film is a bold and brilliantly composed work; as much concerned with its exploration of suffocating socialist politics and contemporary society as it is with the actual crimes and impact of the crimes that drive the tale.

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