'Mirage' ('Delibab'): Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
A violent arthouse fable with Western overtones

Isaach De Bankolé becomes a present-day slave in a Hungarian no man's land

The Hungarian plains might as well be Sergio Leone's American West in Szabolcs Hajdu's Mirage, an atmospheric fable whose setting feels like no place, any time. Isaach De Bankolé, as the loner who shows up here for reasons we never learn and contends with a gang of slave-driving farmers, carries a film that is philosophically related to but more satisfying than Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control. The picture should draw well at fests, but is willfully obscure enough that, sans an auteur whose name is known in the States, it may be a hard sell here.

As if casting one of Jarmusch's favorite actors weren't signal enough of his affinity, Hajdu enlists Billy Martin, sometime bandmate of early Jarmusch collaborator John Lurie, as composer. While Martin doesn't deliver any Ennio Morricone-grade melodies for this parched landscape, he does an excellent job of setting the stage in a film where dialogue is sparse and ambient sound matters a lot. De Bankolé's Francis enters the film whistling in the middle of a field that seems to stretch forever; he will need to hire a private locomotive even to get to a place with a tavern. Once there, he is not received warmly.

A crew led by Cisco (Razvan Vasilescu) rescues him from suspicious policemen, but they have another kind of imprisonment in mind. Though Francis intends to work on their farm, this is to be the kind of job one doesn't just pick up and leave, or necessarily get paid for. We watch as the strapping newcomer does work his scraggly fellow laborers balk at; "don't work so hard," one warns him. But soon comes a note from the sole woman in this place, saying it all belonged to her until Cisco stole it, and things get edgy.

The stark simplicity of the plot, which is based on a story by Sandor Tar, is referenced in chapter headings even more taciturn than the screenplay. An episode in which Francis is captured is prefaced with a line drawing of a bear trap; a cross on a hill foreshadows the discovery of an unusual grave site. Graceful tracking shots by DP Andras Nagy make the action eloquent, though, and while the actors may move without hurrying, the pace of Peter Politzer's editing doesn't try viewers' patience. Events move toward action familiar to any fan of Westerns or the samurai films they inspired, though Hajdu has a cryptic twist in mind for that ride-into-the-sunset final shot.

Production companies: Mirage Film Studio, Filmpartners, MPhilms, Starksales INC, M&M Film, Sparks Camera and Lighting, TV2

Cast: Isaach De Bankolé, Razvan Vasilescu, Orsolya Török-Illyés, Dragos Bucur, Tamás Polgár

Director: Szabolcs Hajdu

Screenwriters: Jim Stark, Szabolcs Hajdu, Nandor Lovas

Producers: Andrea Taschler, Gábor Kovács

Executive producers: Isaach De Bankolé

Director of photography: András Nagy

Production designer: László Rajk

Costume designer: Krisztina Berzsenyi         

Editor: Péter Politzer

Music: Billy Martin

Sales: Hungarian National Film Fund

No rating, 89 minutes