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Years back, in the early days of the European Economic Community, there used to be worried talk of agricultural overproduction creating “wine lakes” or “butter mountains,” gargantuan quantities of foodstuff going ruinously cheap because supply far outstripped demand. These days, it sometimes feels like there’s a similar continent-wide excess (we’d call it a “sprocket tangle,” or some such, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s probably all on digital) of modestly budgeted EU co-productions destined to be seen only at festivals and the art house niches of their partner nations before slipping into back-catalog obscurity.
The Slovakia-Hungary-Czech Republic-Latvia co-production Out is a perfect example of just that sort of sweet, amusing but ineluctably dull festival film. Flecked with notes both of tragedy and comedy, a bit critical of the rising tide of xenophobia across Europe but not so political as to frighten any horses, mildly whimsical (an earless stuffed rabbit plays a major role in the story), this debut for fresh-out-of-film-school director Gyorgy Kristof is the cinematic equivalent of supermarket Pinot Grigio. No one will be offended by it, but few will remember much about it.
The story starts in a factory where Agoston (Jupiter Moon’s Sandor Terhes, who has a handsome, rugged, man-of-a-certain-age face), a Hungarian in his 50s who has been living in Slovakia for some time, is being laid off along with 40 percent of the company’s workforce. Agoston just gets under the feet of his Slovak wife (Eva Bandor) at home, and his daughter (Judit Bardos) has grown up and flown the nest. A leaflet offering work at a dockyard in Riga, Latvia, sounds like an ideal solution and a chance to travel, something our protagonist has always longed to do.
After a long bus ride across Eastern Europe, Agoston shows up at the shipyard to discover they are not expecting him at all, and that he’s the victim of a scam. However, a modest “donation” to help endangered animals paid to one shipyard employee (Ieva Norvele Kristof) secures him work after all, and Agoston settles in to a steady routine.
Everywhere he goes in Latvia, he encounters mildly kooky, offbeat people, like characters in Aki Kaurismaki films but with less monotone voices. The owner of the fleabag hotel Agoston stays at obsesses over his cactus plants. A woman by the seashore searches for grass for her pet rabbit Lev (the one that turns out later to be dead and stuffed by a taxidermist) and subsequently invites Agoston to come dancing at a warehouse rave. With a fish-shaped lure in his pocket that feels obviously symbolic, Agoston buys a new rod at a store run by identical twins. Later, having been fired by a bigoted supervisor for being late for work one day, he decides to try his hand at fishing to support himself. But the fish, like the breaks Agoston goes further and further out (hence the title) to pursue, always remain tantalizingly beyond reach.
As the meandering story progresses, Agoston achieves peak bad luck when he falls in the clutches of Dmitri (Viktor Nemets from My Joy, a comic force of nature) and his pneumatic, surgically enhanced wife (Ieva Aleksandrova-Eklone). A drunken night of revelry with vodka and pickles quickly turns sour, although the sequence could easily make a delightful stand-alone short. Agoston finds himself robbed, dumped and abandoned in a field without a single lat (the local Latvian unit of currency) in his pocket, and it’s back to the trudge of looking for work.
Kristof proves here that he can collaborate well with actors and has a good touch with comedy, but the general shapelessness of the script suggests room for future improvements. Lenser Gergely Poharnok’s lighting keeps step as the story gets progressively darker, but otherwise Kristof keeps the tone and style fairly flat and naturalistic. A little more weirdness might have done it a world of good. Just for the record, about half a dozen languages are spoken throughout, but Russian predominates.
Production companies: A Sentimental?lm production in co-production with KMH Film, Endorfilm, Mirage Film, Punkchart Films, RTVS, Famu, Film Angels Productions
Cast: Sandor Terhes, Eva Bandor, Eszter Judit Bardos, Ieva Norvele Kristof, Guna Zarina, Viktor Nemets, Ieva Aleksandrova-Eklone, Tibor Gaspár
Director: Gyorgy Kristof
Screenwriters: Gyorgy Kristof, Eszter Horvath, Gabor Papp, based on a story by Gyorgy Kristof
Producers: Marek Urban, Ferenc Pusztai, Jiri Konecny
Co-producers: Andrea Taschler, Ivo Ceplevics, Ivan Ostrochovsky, Tibor Buza, Ondrej Sejnoha
Director of photography: Gergely Poharnok
Production designer: Branislav Mihalik
Editor: Adam Brothanek
Music: Miroslav Toth
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
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