The small town of Martfü, Hungary, became well known after the war for its shoe factory. But after the revolution in 1956, an atrocious murder of a local woman from a factory scares local authorities into action.
A psychotic killer is on the prowl. Local man Reti confesses to the crime. Reti himself is confused on details of the crime but the authorities are quick to close the case and sentence him to a prison term.
Seven years later the murders begin again. A young detective is sent to Martfü and soon becomes obsessed with the case. Meanwhile, everyone involved in the original case has to choose which side of the investigation they lie on. Careers were made on the original arrest and the higher authorities are looking at the new murder cases with scrutiny. Was Reti an innocent man who was wrongly accused and sentenced for crimes he never committed? If he is innocent, who is committing these murders and will take the blame for the wrongful arrest?
Árpád Sopsits solid thriller Strangled is based on real-life events that rocked this provincial town in Hungary in the 1960s. Working together with longtime cinematographer Gábor Szabó, who won the Hungarian Film Critics Award for his terrific work here, the production expertly recreates a period of quiet turmoil in Hungary’s history. There are some great performances from his key cast; the emotions evoked by the events as they unfold range from fear to frustration to anger.
A couple of chase scenes in the mix are a tad overplayed, but they let the film stretch its legs for a couple minutes, so to speak. When Strangled is quiet is when it works best. The is a palpable sense of dread whenever the killer stalks his victims. That dread turns to outright fear when we realize that the killer’s intended victims are not going to escape.
The violence against the women is unsettling. None of the killer’s acts are glorified and are very difficult to watch. Nothing about the killer’s acts are glorified and rightly so. That is all I really want to say about that because I do not like recalling this on screen violence even as I write this review. It is not exploitative, just brutal, real and deeply unsettling. Even when Reti thinks he is reenacting the crime from the first murder he was convicted for, the images are enough to make your blood run cold.
As the story wraps up, Árpád Sopsits makes interesting choices about which players from the story he shows are impacted by the capture of the real murderer and the release of Reti. In a country under the shadow of Soviet Russia, if you know even an inkling of Cold War history in Eastern Europe, you can imagine how some of those repercussions were felt. In a way these choices deny the audience some of that closure we need after witnessing these atrocities played out on the screen.
Unable to speak with Sopsits directly about this choice, I can only presume that Strangled is very much a statement about the system rather than a voice for the victims. As much as Strangled is a thriller and a procedural, it is also an exploration and a condemnation of an old political system, the old ways of Hungary in a time of the country’s history where fear dictated your next move as much as bureaucracy did.
I would have liked to have seen something more at the end that would have, in my mind, brought closure for the victims of those horrendous crimes. The dark cloud of the 1956 Revolution and the fallout afterwards still hung over everyone and dictated how many of them acted during that murderous season in Martfü. Sopsits’ film focuses more on the authorities and the impact of the investigation on those who were still alive, from Reti and his family to the authorities who put him in prison and the fresh blood brought in to investigate the new rash of murders.
Strangled plays for the crowd at Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival this Saturday, April 8. Árpád Sopsits has not said which song he will sing before the screening.
- Károly Hajduk
- Zsolt Anger
- Mónika Balsai
- Péter Bárnai
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