Hungary is perhaps not known for its constant stream of cinematic output. Arguably the country’s greatest director, Bela Tar, is best known for his movie – Satantango – which goes on for seven and a half hours. That all changed last year with the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars for Son of Saul, a film so perfectly polarising the beauty and brutality of humanity that it tore an edifying hole through the tradition saccharinity of Hollywood war movies.
Strangled is based on the true life events surrounding a series of murders between 1957 and 1966 in then-communist Hungary. The initial murder and rape case of a woman in ‘57 was quickly closed after the admission of guilt by local man Ákos Réti (Jászberényi), who was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment after the death sentence was overturned on appeal. After new comparable attacks are committed years later, Réti’s sister is convinced her brother is innocent, insisting the case be reopened. Réti maintains his guilt and the police are more than happy to keep any mistakes in their initial investigation quiet. Sopsits then divides his time between the mystery of the murders and the surrounding police incompetence and corruption as the tales intermingle excellently.
It’s rare to witness such a complex whodunnit based on real events. The awful events are never exploited, each augmenting the psychological awareness of both victim and perpetrator. The tension is kept at a constant high by excellent lighting by DOP Gábor Szabó and the understated Halloween-esque tinkling piano score from Márk Moldvai. Sopsits takes care that no part of the film is gaudy or inflated, instead allowing the density of the story and situations of those involved take centre stage.
Strangled is one of those rare films which respects its source material yet still manages to hold a genuinely entertaining story. This is in no small part to the detail Sopsits has put into the arcs of his characters and a superb cast who are happy to keep away from overplaying and allow the story to unfold around them.
Dir: Árpád Sopsits
Cast: Gábor Jászberényi, Károly Hajduk, Péter Bárnai, Zsófia Szamosi
Prd: Attila Tõzsér
DOP: Gábor Szabó
Music: Márk Moldvai
Run Time: 120 minutes
Strangled is in selected cinemas now