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Hungarian tale about a mundane and soulless travelling circus and their handyman is in reality a riff on loneliness and animal love - from the 32nd edition of Raindance

This is a film about loneliness; a need to be wanted by others while harbouring unrequited love for another. When things are looking meagre, it’s an unusual source that finally lets Árni feel at ease with himself and this unfulfilling life he has wound up living.

The film’s concept possesses a lot of scope for an intriguing story. It follows Árni (Turi) the handyman for a travelling family circus from Hungary operated by the overweight patriarchal figure that is Stefán (Zoltán Koppány) and his iron-willed wife Elena (Andrea Spolarics). The circus is terribly mundane, featuring a not-so-strong man, two disobedient poodles, and the lamest reptile show you’ve ever seen. That doesn’t stop the locals from turning up though, but that’s more to do with the fact there is nothing else to do in this small Hungarian town.

Árni is a mysterious figure, often seen skulking around the grounds completing menial tasks for the family, while seemingly only having a bond with the circus animals he cares for. How did Árni find himself working for the circus? What was his life like before this one? You could ask so many questions and never get any answers, and the film expects you to use your imagination because it certainly won’t be giving anything away. However, Péter Turi’s performance is impressive because he’s hardly been given anything to work with. Árni is quite an uninspired character with very little dialogue throughout, and for someone who takes up 90% of the screen time, it’s difficult to stay engaged. Even a small subplot that sees Árni involved with a local labourer from a nearby village struggles to make an impression on the audience.

Árni’s monotonous life is interrupted when he is tasked with caring for the circus’s latest recruit – it’s not what you think though because it comes in the guise of a giant python deemed too large by its previous owner. He soon becomes attached to the huge reptile; feeding it rats, sleeping with it at night, and trying to forge a bond that allows him to join the show as the new reptile handler after the previous employee, Raul (Zoltán Gyöngyösi), Stefán’s number one son, becomes disillusioned with his life on the road and hatches a plan to leave. Árni’s attempts to find himself through his scaly new friend could be life-changing, but a bleak and dreary film like this has no interest in happy endings.

There are a few missed opportunities. ur protagonist struggles to leave a long-lasting impact, in a movie lacking character development. Plus large parts of the film pass by without much happening. At times, literally nothing at all happens.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Some aesthetic and technical devices provide the film with some much-needed vitality. The cinematography is effective and often uses a lot of detailed and highly seductive framing when following Árni around his work. The intimate moments with the snake add a touch of exoticness. Partnering with the cinematography is a fantastic score that not only uses some interesting song choices, native to that part of the world. It feels natural and authentic.

Arni premieres in the 32nd edition of Raindance.

By John McDonald - 11-06-2024

Failing from the seaside town of Southport but now living in Liverpool, John McDonald has had a passion for cinema since he was a small child. The westerns of John Wayne were his gateway into the cine...

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