It’s extremely difficult to describe Hukkle in words, since it is one of those film without a word of dialogue and with a very little in the way of plot, yet it achieves something through the use of image and sound that is uniquely cinematic. It’s therefore particularly frustrating since any attempt to put it into words will inevitably diminish or fail to live up to what the film is all about. It’s simply a must-see film, in all senses and meanings of the phrase.
The film that most comes to mind when watching Hukkle is Jeunet & Caro’s Delicatessen. It features a group of people in a small closed community - a small Hungarian village populated with strange, grotesque characters, who have a dark secret tradition that is carried out. Think particularly of the celebrated scene in Delicatessen where the whole of an apartment block moves to the rhythm of the creaking of the bedsprings of the butcher and his wife, how the camera slips from room to room, from individual close-ups to taking in the totality of all the characters and their environment. That, in a nutshell, is what Hukkle achieves that throughout the whole of its modest 75 minute length, and it does it in a very entertaining and original way.
Opening with a hiccupping old man filling up a container of milk and sitting on a little bench outside his cottage (the title Hukkle comes from the sound he makes), the film moves from close-up to wide, picking up the ants under the bench he is sitting on and moving out to see the whole village operating to similar natural rhythms. There is no other dialogue or backing music than these everyday rhythms – the sounds of machinery, the familiar clicks and thumps of a starting car, the rings of a bicycle bell, and the under-the-breath humming of an old lady hoeing in the fields. Much of the joy of the film is in watching the little switches of pacing and changes of rhythm through the imaginative and often humorous little jumps and transitions from scene to scene, through sounds and images making wonderful flowing links between people and objects, the wildlife and the environment around them, taking it all into a view of the world from a unique perspective. At times, this perspective can sweep from a birds-eye view to an early David Lynchian dive into the seething undergrowth, switching between speeded-up time-lapse photography to slow-motion freezes. It can also make Bergman-esque leaps out of the very film negative itself.
All this can make the film can appear to be vague, plotless exercise in filmmaking style and technique – sweeping from lo-fi to some astonishing 3D animation (more striking for the impact they achieve than for any great technical achievement). A theme however gradually arises out of the most seemingly irrelevant shots, as men from the little community seem to be dropping off at an alarming rate, to the puzzlement of the local police officer. The only use of subtitling in the whole film, a traditional folk song sung at a wedding, ties the whole film together and provides the key to unlocking some of the stranger sequences in the film – the washing of glasses with marks on them, the emptying of a water bottle at the scene of a fishing “accident” and the postmistress dispensing pensions to the village widows. More than just simply capturing the rhythms of life from a variety of viewpoints, the film shows that these rhythms are not random, but that they all tie into a central theme that life is all about the survival of the smartest and the fittest.
Hukkle is released in the UK by Soda Pictures. The DVD is in PAL format and is Region 2 encoded.
The film is transferred anamorphically at an aspect ratio of 2.00:1, which means narrow black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. The image quality, which is so important to the whole flow of the film, is quite good. It’s not perfect – there is a certain amount of grain and high contrast, all of which could be down to the original materials and the nature of the unorthodox shooting techniques – but the minor issues often shows up the nice, rough, filmic detail of colour and contrast in close-ups. Wider shots however lose a certain amount of sharpness, clarity and detail. There is a certain amount of minor print damage, but the only real issue with the transfer is some aliasing problems and slight breaking up of diagonal lines.
The soundtrack is presented as stereo Dolby Digital 2.0. It’s not particularly sharp or clear, but reasonably strong and detailed enough to pick up with some dynamism all the little clicks, coughs, splutters, hiccups, murmurs, rattling, thumping and crashing and that contribute so much to the whole tone of the film.
There is no dialogue in the film other than some incoherent mumbling, so subtitles are only provided briefly for a minute or two for a song at the end of the film. These are optional, but important, so make sure they are not switched off.
There are no extras on this release and they are not really required. There would be little to be gained from a traditional Making Of or Director Commentary (although both are present on the Home Vision Region 1 release of the film). An interview at least with the director might have been useful, or some background information on how the film came to be made would be interesting, but there is unfortunately nothing at all here.
There is a plot there somewhere in Hukkle, but it’s hard to follow and not the principal delight of the film, which is its sense of fun, imagination and the unique cinematic qualities it explores outside of the traditional storytelling nature of the medium, blending all these elements together into a delightful symphony of image and sound. If you are looking for extra features, the HVE Region 1 provides them, but I don’t think they will add much to the film which is otherwise well presented here by Soda Pictures.