02. 13. 2007. 09:14

Forgotten by history

Zoltán Kamondi: Dolina (film review)

This year's Budapest Film Week, the major event of Hungarian filmmakers, was again rich in literary adaptations. A feature by director Zoltán Kamondi, Dolina, was based on Ádám Bodor's 1999 novel, The Visit of the Archbishop.

Zoltán Kamondi, the director of ”mystical” movies – Paths of Deaths and Angels, The Alchemist and the Virgin, Temptations – seems to have turned his back on mysticism when he adapted Ádám Bodor's Visit of the Archbishop.

Yet, although there are no magic elements in Dolina, it is not a realistic film either: it has its own mythology. Bogdanski Dolina, the village in the film (and the novel) is a separate, closed world, with its own, peculiar laws and principles. This fictitious Eastern European village is somewhere in the Eastern Carpathians, on the border of Ukraine and Romania (there are allusions to Bukovina), but in the final analysis, it is a mythical and archetypal Eastern European village which seems to be a leftover from the times of the Monarchy – at least, this is what the ethnic diversity of the village suggests: it is populated by Italians, Slavs, Ukrainians, Jews, Armenians and Greek Orthodox priests. Bogdanski Dolina was forgotten by history, its inhabitants were left behind by time – it seems that the village has existed for all eternity and will remain unaltered until the end of time.

This archaic timelessness is visually represented by the omnipresent colour white. As if we were watching a lunar landscape, everything – the streets, the houses, the walls – is white. (The film was shot in a caolin mine.) It is impossible to determine the age of the buildings and the objects in the film – clothes and everyday objects suggest that the action takes place at the beginning of the previous century. This timelessness is characteristic of the novel as well: it does not give us any points of orientation, and even misleads us concerning the time of the events. Neither Ádám Bodor's use of language nor the jobs and offices mentioned in the novel (priest, army chaplain, seminarist, hairdresser, archimandrite, vicar) help us in determining the time. There is only one object, appearing on one occasion – a modern and expensive car – which suggests that the action takes place in the present, after all, or the recent past, and a date is once mentioned from which we can conclude that the setting is around 1998–2000. The film, on the other hand, takes place in the present, but all the modern objects that appear in the film arrive from outside the village.

Timelessness characterises the film not only on the visual, but on the narrative level as well. The locals are waiting for the visit of the archbishop in vain, because archbishops are mortal. And just as we are at a loss concerning time, so are we concerning the figures – sometimes we have no clue as to their relationships to each other. Nobody is what they seem: priests – whom we suspect to have once been soldiers – wear false beards, a married woman becomes her female boss's lover. Identities are interchangeable: the former army chaplain becomes the owner of a costume rental, and vice versa – the two people simply change places. The interchangeability of people is visually enhanced by the physical similarity between two main actors, Adriano Giannini and János Derzsi.

The main difference between the novel and the film is the narrative structure. The novel starts in medias res; we learn gradually about past events, jumping back and forth in time, and some of the events are treated time and again. In the film, the events unfold in a chronological order, told by a first-person narrator – who, in contrast with the novel, has a name: he is Petruska, hairdresser Colentina Dunka's adopted son. Through the linear narration, we witness the gradual process through which Gabriel Ventuza, a man who came from outside the village, is assimilated by the locals. By accepting this strange, closed world and submitting himself to its laws, he resigns himself to a mechanism that is seemingly outside the order of things, but that is actually a miniature and stylized version of that oppressive reality called Eastern Europe.


Judit Vajda

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