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Kekszakallu Review

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Kekszakallu | Review

Kekszakallu | Review

A Man’s World: Solnicki Scores with Experimental Exercise in Ennui and Agency

KekszakalluStanding as the most enigmatic art-house debut to achieve limited theatrical release stateside, Argentina’s Gaston Solnicki achieves the inexplicable with his debut Kekszakallu, which picked up the prize for Best Film at the 2016 Venice Film Festival in the Orizzonti sidebar.

If its inexplicable title perhaps spells doom at the domestic box-office, it manages something a bit more meta with those willing to dive into a film which portends to be inspired by Bela Bartok’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle (and Solnicki’s title retains the Hungarian imprint of the musical piece, which is used expressively throughout).

Of course, Bluebeard refers to the grisly Charles Perrault fairytale about a rich husband who murders his overly curious wives for disobeying his orders until one finally wises up. Solnicki’s attempt to interweave his homage into a contemporary setting of economic turmoil and its effect on privileged young women trying to break free of their stagnant traditions is perhaps the most esoteric to date, considering Bluebeard has long been a cinematic fixture, ranging from Georges Melies to Catherine Breillat, and featuring a wide range of leading men (George Sanders, Richard Burton, John Carradine, Charles Denner, Gary Cooper) in all varying degrees of the tale, from horror to comedy. Curiosity may have killed the cat (and Bluebeard’s wives), but should be an inclination which leads audiences to discover an exciting new directorial voice.

A group of young girls, all daughters of rich industrialists (a detail which is not immediately apparent) spend their summer vacation in Uruguay. The air of indifference sweltering over their placid holiday becomes a monotonous hum intermittently broken by suggestions of rippling discord underneath the surface. Among the women, we begin focus on one (Laila Maltz) as she begins to make moves in the world. Living with her father, she takes a job in his Styrofoam company, itself a whirling conveyor of mechanized production. Like several of her peers, she makes enfeebled attempts to divorce herself from her surroundings.

Infrastructure is tantamount to the mise-en-scene of Kekszakallu, as evidenced by a clutch of repeated frames from dueling DPs Fernando Lockett and Diego Poleri. The film opens with a shot of a public swimming pool, honing in on the ladder to a diving board where we witness a young girl retreat from taking the plunge. As the film unfolds, we discover recurring themes regarding various young women, climbing metaphorical ascensions, but then retreating back to the comfort of their complacency. Just as a young woman avoids the diving board, another faces considerable indecision about choosing a major, and yet another, who moves into her own apartment, is unable to fend for herself (at least suggested by an empty fridge).

While the skyline and cityscape are frequently glanced at, as if to prove the macrocosmic certainty of an endlessly scripted paradigm of what we understand to be ‘a man’s world,’ the exterior shots of privileged summer homes begin to reflect the agitation of the women stuck within them. Plump, white bodies engage in flaccid, banal interactions, such as to barbeque or not to barbeque because of the heat index. Ordering out requires the added stress of how to pay.

How these women’s lives relate to Perrault, beyond Solnicki’s continual slam jams of Bartok’s opera (which lends the film a layer of anxious melodrama) is open to interpretation. The seven unfortunate wives of Bluebeard were all women who disobeyed their husband’s orders due to their natural curiosity of their new home/imprisonment but tried in vain to hide their indiscretion by returning to a previous state of ignorance. As the women of Kekszakallu attempt to overcome the invisible weight of their cultural ennui, Solnicki ends on the perfect moment of progress—forging forward and not looking back.

★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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