Impressive Images And Agonizing Voices

in 19th Mar del Plata International Film Festival

by Pablo Suárez

Just as it has been happening in recent years, the artistic quality of most films featured at the official competition of the 19th edition of the Mar del Plata International Film Festival remained mediocre, when not downright lousy — as opposed to many notable productions from the non-competitive parallel sections. The same again, every now and then there are just a few films that proudly rise above the general level amidst this otherwise uninspiring selection. And that certainly is the case of “Dealer”, the riveting opera prima of Hungarian filmmaker Benedek Fliegauf, a film bound to linger in your cinematic memory long after you have left the movie theatre.

Fittingly set in an imaginary city, and in an ontological time rather than in a chronological one, the story of an ordinary drug dealer and his connections made and missed with others in an emotional and physically paralyzed society is the director’s way of reflecting upon the meaning of life and death, guilt and responsibility, fate and free will. In fact, “Dealer” raises disturbing existential questions, yet it never provides nor facile neither complex answers.

It is smart enough not to intellectualize, but rather to suggest and imply. Not in a confrontational and didactic style but in a more oblique one that brilliantly uses both metaphor and allegory to pin down some of the film’s central ideas. Not with heavy-handed, explanatory dialogue but with impressive images and agonizing voices cleverly spread out along its rightfully slowly paced 160 minutes.

It might sound pretentious, but it isn’t: just slightly over-ambitious at times. Above it all, consider that director Benedek Fliegauf’s depiction of such a layered scenario avoids all clichés and leaves out a safe formulaic approach in favor of capturing the atmosphere and the feelings associated with this nihilistic state of things by an elaborate use of the language of cinema.

Take the stunning camerawork used to catch the flowing of time by resorting to very long takes and a steadycam floating slowly in circular movements, absolutely mesmerizing by all accounts. Or the deft narrative use of distorted sounds to convey the inner turmoil and extreme despair and anguish that underlies the entire film. Or perfect use of little light alongside plenty of darkness, shadows, and distances to place everything in a far-removed dimension where the meaning of the term God stopped making sense a long time ago.

Most important, it all largely succeeds at immersing viewers into a nightmarishly oppressive micro-cosmos that looks and feels close and hostile. This universe, where the actions and the absence of reactions of the characters are trapped in a tormenting circular trip with no visible way out, speaks of an entire world gone awry. Cohesive and coherent from the first frame to the last, “Dealer” shows the firm hand of a new, utterly talented filmmaker who, having made only one full length feature film already, has a style all of his own. A feat with a lot of meaning by its own.