3 stars (out of 4)
In "Hukkle," an old country man with a face like a gargoyle starts hiccupping in the first few minutes, sitting by the roadside and watching bizarre things pass. That, in a way, is the key to the movie. "Hukkle," an invented word, is the onomatopoetic sound of a hiccup. And as Sartre might say, if he were sufficiently tight, "Life is a hiccup; the hiccup is life."
Set in a small Hungarian village bedeviled by a string of strange murders and animal killings, filled with oddball rustic characters who don't talk, "Hukkle" is a film driven by an elusive plot buried like a cryptogram under the action. It's a delightfully screwy ethnographic murder mystery, beautifully photographed in translucent naturalistic color.
In it, everything is mysterious, little is really solved, the clues are impenetrable, the detectives are inept, and the only consistent threads are those persistent hiccups. Something peculiar and possibly malignant is going on in the village. What it is, God only knows. But if we watch long enough, like that hiccuping old man, we may learn something.
"Hukkle" is right in the tart, pleasing vein of dark Eastern European humor and half-surreal imagery that were keystones of the Czech, Hungarian and Polish new waves in the 1960s. It's well made and well shot, the first feature of a highly promising 27-year-old director-writer, Gyorgy Palfi, and it was a festival hit last year in Chicago, Toronto and elsewhere.
Often these little hits get lost. Thankfully, this time, it's been rescued. After all, not often can you say that a movie's high concept is: "An old man hiccups while everything falls apart." In that sense, "Hukkle" stands - and hiccups - alone. (In Hungarian, with English subtitles.)
Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. No MPAA rating (parents cautioned for implied violence).