'Lily Lane' ('Liliom Osveny'): Berlin Review

Lily Lane still 2 - Angela Stefanovics, Balint Sotonyi -H 2016
Courtesy of Daniel Bogdan Szoke
Enigmatic and cinematic.

Bence Fliegauf (‘Just the Wind’) premiered his new feature in the Berlinale Forum.

An evocative mood piece in search of a story, Lily Lane marks a return to more experimental terrain for Hungarian auteur Bence Fliegauf, whose 2011 feature Just the Wind premiered in the Berlinale competition and walked away with the Silver Bear award. Somewhere between Terrence Malick and Andrei Tarkovsky, though lacking enough narrative drive to keep us fully interested, this mystifying if aesthetically intoxicating study of childhood, memory and creepy bedtime tales should continue its festival run after an initial bow in the Forum sidebar.

Mixing gloomy naturalistic images with colorful flashbacks and heavily layered sound design (credited to the director himself), the film follows the travails of Rebeka (Angela Stefanovics), a recently separated mother who both enchants and frightens her 7-year-old son Dani (Balint Sotonyi) with made-up stories that may or may not be drawn from her own troubled past.

When she’s not wandering with Dani around Budapest and its rural environs — the film’s title comes from a neighborhood in the hills surrounding the city — Rebeka is trying to cope with the sudden death (or suicide?) of her terminally ill mother, while engaging in hostile web chats with an ex-husband who clearly wants her out of his life.

Yet if Fliegauf somewhat hints at a veritable plot early on, his movie quickly turns into a purely sensory experience, offering up a few chosen hints about Rebeka’s background but concentrating mostly on the fleeting moments she lives both in the past and present. There are times, especially when Rebeka talks to Dani in bed or when we see shots of her dead mother in the woods, that Lily Lane broaches on horror film territory, though the storytelling is way too lax to provoke any real scares.

Instead, the director and regular DP Zoltan Lovasi provide an array of bewitching visuals, ranging from grainy close-ups of Dani’s toys to cell phone flashbacks of happier times to haunting sequences set in the overgrown, abandoned house where mother and son eventually wind up. Working as his own production designer, Fliegauf has a knack for creating vividly lived-in spaces, though the result is that such spaces occupy a film that never finds a strong enough narrative to guide us.

Stefanovics offers up a presence at once disturbing and ethereal, playing a woman who clearly has inner demons to exorcise yet seems impossible to pin down. Her Rebeka is a compelling character that’s forever out of our reach, in a movie that suggests something deep and dark but remains stubbornly diffuse in its effectiveness.

Production companies: Fraktal Film
Cast: Angela Stefanovics, Balint Sotonyi, Miklos Szekely B., Maria Gindert, Maja Balogh
Director, screenwriter: Bence Fliegauf
Producers: Erno Mesterhazy, Bence Fliegauf, Monika Mecs, Andras Pires Muhi
Director of photography: Zoltan Lovasi
Production designer: Bence Fliegauf
Costume designer: Anna Kovalik
Editor: Balazs Budai
Composer: Bence Fliegauf
Casting director: Bence Fliegauf
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum)
Sales: Films Boutique

In Hungarian
91 minutes