Strangled

 

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A powerful portrayal of a serial killer that needs to be approached with caution.

 
Strangled

 

This Hungarian film written and directed by Árpád Sopsits does not come across as being in any sense an entertainment. That is fortunate because had it done so the tale that it tells - the true story of a rapist and killer that took place between 1957 and 1968 - would undoubtedly belong in the sphere of exploitation movies. As it is, Sopsits gives us a serious and very disturbing film and one in which the depiction of necrophiliac rape and mutilation is never soft-pedalled. Whether or not such detailed material should ever be allowed on screen even with an inevitable “18” certificate is an open question. It is one that may seem even more pressing due to the fact that the film is being released here at a time when sexual harassment, especially of women, is making the headlines daily: women are certainly victims here and, while the scenes showing it invite shock as the response, they are depicted without restraint.

 

That warning having been delivered, the critic’s job is to assess the quality of the film and Strangled is a work made with skill and thus capable of creating a powerful impact. Initially, it suggests a standard crime thriller as it deals with events in 1957 in the town of Martfü when Ákos Réti (Gábor Jászberényi) is found guilty of raping and killing a girl friend who had rejected him (a death sentence would be reduced to a jail term of 25 years). Despite Réti having confessed, a later killing in 1964 would be so similar that the prosecutor investigating the case (Péter Bárnal) would seek to reopen the earlier one. In the film’s opening scenes we do not see the killer’s face but, having moved on to 1964, it is now made clear that the killer operating then is a truck driver named Bognár (Károly Hajduk) and he will go on to commit another murder in 1966. As the narrative proceeds it appears increasingly likely that, despite Réti’s confession, Bognár also committed the original killing and thus reopening that case is the right thing to do.

 

As the story develops, Strangled does retain elements of the police procedural, but nevertheless it becomes increasingly apparent that it is emerging as something else altogether. Early on there is a suggestion of police inefficiency in investigating the original murder fully, but now the hostility to the idea of reopening that case leads to a clear indictment of a country under Communist control where the need to sustain public belief in the justice system is more important than justice actually being done. How things look is what matters and, however brutal the cover up becomes, the overriding factor is to present Hungary in the immediate era post-1956 as a country in which there are no serial killers. Thus it is that Strangled becomes a social comment, albeit one specific to a past period in the country’s history. It’s a tough watch, but one that takes us beyond the usual limits of stories about serial killers. Even so, there will be some who take the view that that does not justify the film’s portrayal of women being viciously abused.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Károly Hajduk, Gábor Jászberényi, Zsolt Anger, Péter Bárnal, Zsolt Trill, Zsófia Szamosi, Mónika Balsai, András Réthelyi, Piroska Móga, Valentin Venczel, Dóra Sztarenki, Anna Mészöly, Ezster Csépal.

 

Dir Árpád Sopsits, Pro Gábor Ferenczy and Attila Tozsér, Screenplay Árpád Sopsits, Ph Gábor Szabó, Pro Des Rita Dévényi and Árpád Sopsits, Ed Zoltán Kovács, Music Márk Moldvai, Costumes Györgyi Szakács.

 

FocusFox/Magyar Nemzeti Filmalap-Eureka Entertainment.
121 mins. Hungary. 2016. Rel: 17 November 2017. Cert. 18.