Friday, October 14, 2011

Film Clip #243: Gravedigger

2011 – Fiction, 88 min.
Director: Sandor Kardos (Hungary)
Cast: Mari Torocsik, Anga Kaksziistvan, Papp Alina
SYRFILM screening: Friday, October 14, 7:00 PM, Watson Theatre, Waverly Avenue, SU Campus.

Some of us always keep a sharp look-out for the Hungarian and the Czech films that turn up each year as part of the SYRFILM line-up. This evening Sandor Kardos’ feature length Gravedigger is up against what is perhaps the festival’s signature – and usually best attended – event, the silent screen classic accompanied by a specially commissioned live jazz performance. But SYRFILM has put Gravedigger at Watson Theatre on the SU campus (in the Menschel Media Center, next to Light Work, on the corner of Waverly and Comstock Avenues), so maybe the film will catch the campus crowd who are willing to brave the rain but not enough for the trek to Eastwood.

Listed as “experimental,” Gravedigger is a series of stills that pan from right to left (and occasionally in the other direction) – much like a photographic story-boarding of a film. But, made with a photo-finish camera like those used to capture the exact instant a race horse’s nose crosses the finish line, these stills are elongated and distorted. If you don’t know this, you may think the DVD is bad or the projector broken, but no: it’s entirely on purpose. There’s an adjustment period involved here – Gravedigger is not immediately and obviously captivating – but it’s worth the wait.

Set roughly in the 19th century, Gravedigger easily offers itself as a fable, and opens with the gravedigger of the village of San Rocco having died and the leader seeking a new man for the job. For three weeks there are no applicants and, after all, what is a “’cemetery without a master”? One day a stranger arrives, wanting the job, and he transforms the cemetery into a flourishing garden, not to mention winning the heart of Gita, the village leader’s lonely daughter. Suddenly, the villagers do not fear the weight of death so much. The gravedigger’s wisdom lies in his observation that people’s great sorrow lies not in death but in a failure to reach one another. A premonition of the coming plague and Gita’s death, however, cast a pall over the village and replace the flourishing garden with death piled on death. Suddenly there is no more ceremony around death – instead, the few remaining among living heave the bodies over the cemetery hedge. As an allegory of personal and collective grief alike, Gravedigger literally stertches its images to breaking, and stays with you long after you think it would be gone.