Bibliotheque Pascal -- Film Review



BERLIN -- "You're probably thinking, how long is this gonna go on for?" remarks the villainous title character roughly two-thirds of the way through "Bibliotheque Pascal," a classic hostage-to-fortune line if ever there was one. Because by this stage, the fourth feature by Hungarian writer-director Szabolcs Hajdu has become a creative train-wreck of epic proportions -- easily one of the worst films in this year's generally substandard Berlinale.

Festivals receptive to howlingly pretentious, fatuously offensive nonsense really must check it out. Everyone else is advised to steer well clear of this toxic cinetrash.

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The enigmatically titled film is Hajdu's follow-up to 2006's "White Palms," which reaped considerable acclaim and several awards on the festival circuit. Its success was presumably what convinced the 22 funding bodies and sponsors named in the end credits (count 'em!) to support this woefully misbegotten and misconceived farrago.

As befits what turns into an exercise in masochism, the picture is named after an elaborate S&M brothel in Liverpool, which is where our hapless half-Romanian, half-Hungarian heroine Mona (Orsolya Torok-Illyes) ends up after being sex-trafficked by her own genial but devious dad (Razvan Vasilescu.) This means she loses touch with her 3-year-old daughter Viorica (Lujza Hajdu), who stays with her aunt Rodica (Oana Pellea) back home in Eastern Europe.

We know that Mona escapes the sinister clutches of suavely obnoxious brothel keeper Pascal (Shamgar Amram) because she's telling the entire story after the event: as we see in the prologue and epilogue, it's her attempt to persuade the authorities to return Viorica to her custody, and to arrest Rodica on child-exploitation charges.

Mona's madcap adventures are a sub-Fellini compendium of colorfully over-elaborate weirdness, featuring off-puttingly overstuffed production design, stiff dialogue and variable performances. One early episode sees Mona fall for an armed desperado (Andi Vasluianu) who cheerfully admits to having been arrested for a homophobic murder. The film's attitude to this crime is disturbingly unclear -- then again, Hajdu's treatment of some extremely serious themes in "Bibliotheque Pascal" seems to be deliberately, provocatively larkish and whimsical. His feeble "get out" is provided by a twist finale which is as unsatisfying as it is implausible -- entirely in keeping with such a regrettably spectacular waste of time, money and effort for all concerned.
Production: Filmpartners, Budapest; Katapult, Budapest. In collaboration with Gilles Mann, Cologne; Sparks, Budapest; M&M, Budapest; TV2, Budapest
Cast: Orsolya Torok-Illyes, Oana Pellea, Razvan Vasilescu, Andi Vasluianu, Shamgar Amram
Director: Szabolcs Hajdu
Screenwriters: Szabolcs Hajdu
Producers: Ivan Angelusz, Andras Hamori, Gabor Kovacs
Director of photography: Andras Nagy
Production designers: Monika Esztan, Peter Matyassy
Music: Burnt Friedmann, Atom TM, Flanger
Costume designer: Krisztina Berzsenyi
Editor: Peter Politzer
Sales: Katapult, Budapest
No rating, 110 minutes