The following films screened at the 2019 Lund International Fantastic Film Festival (Lund, Sweden) from September 27 until October 5.
Hungarian film His Master’s Voice (Az Úr hangja, 2018) is a trippy, challenging work focused on a man’s search for his estranged scientist father that takes mind-bending detours into the cosmos and perhaps beyond. Péter (Csaba Polgár) travels to America with his girlfriend Dóra (Diána Magdolna Kiss), who is frustrated by him constantly following the whims of his demanding, manically driven wheelchair-bound brother Zsolt (Ádám Fekete). The brothers were abandoned by their father (Eric Peterson) in communist Hungary in the early 1980s, and Zsolt is driven to learn why. The further Péter follows the breadcrumb trails toward his father, the stranger the mystery becomes. Conspiracy theories — including some put forth by Zsolt himself — alleged messages from an alien life force, a from-out-of-nowhere orgy scene, and visions of child-eating Cronus are just a few of the fantastical turns that His Master’s Voice offers along with its rather lackluster family drama elements.
Director György Pálfi (Hukkle , Taxidermia ) — who cowrote the screenplay with Zsófia Ruttkay and Nagy V. Gorgö, based on a 1968 novel by Stanislaw Lem — has crafted a marvelous-looking work that offers rich rewards. Such achievements include a gorgeously edited trip back in time through the brothers’ lives using still photographs, and another sequence where a family tree morphs into a binary message that may be of alien origin. The visuals alone make this film a must-see, with cinematographer Gergely Pohárnok (Hukkle) and editor Réka Lemhényi doing a breathtaking job of bringing Pálfi’s vision to cinematic life. The reach of His Master’s Voice is often a long and sometimes puzzling one, but the film is always entertaining.
German feature The Final Land (Das letzte Land, 2019) offers science fiction of a grittier, but no less existential, kind. From the soundscape to virtually every frame within the spaceship and on a prison planet, everything is dust and grime in this tale of two escapees from that planet. Fugitive prisoner Adem (Torbe Föllmer) and guard Novak (Milan Pesl) are aching for freedom from the oppressive conditions under which they both have lived for years. When Novak finds Adem hiding in a working spacecraft thought derelict, the two hatch a plan to escape. Once they leave the planet, though, the differences between the two men and their ideas of where they should go lead to dramatic and dangerous paths, especially once a mysterious signal comes into play. Föllmer and Pesl are both superb in this two-hander, which naturally relies heavily on the actors to carry the weight of the film. Föllmer portrays Adem with a sort of reserved, optimistic melancholy, while Pesl invests his brusque alpha male with a manic obsessiveness.
Writer/director/cinematographer/editor Marcel Barion — who also did the breathtaking visual effects, which include gorgeous shots of outer space — creates a tense, claustrophobic setting within the spaceship, aided greatly by Massimo Muller’s masterful set design. The controls have a decidedly retro feel to them, and though there seems to be barely any room to move around inside the spacecraft, it is full of mazes of wires, as well as cryptic surprises. Barion and Oliver Kranz’s sound design is superlative, with each swipe of something dusty or dingy giving off sounds that practically make you feel the decay and squalor. The Final Land, a bold feast for the senses, is a mesmerizing journey that pits the wills and minds of two men against each other, themselves, and enigmatic outside forces.
Polish film Werewolf (Wilkolak; 2018) won Lund International Fantastic Film Festival’s 2019 Feature Film Méliès d’Argent award. Writer/director Adrian Panek could have easily gone into the realms of exploitation with his story of Polish adolescent Nazi prison camp refugees and the dangers that surround them after they are liberated by the Russians, including a pack of bloodthirsty dogs. Instead, he avoids that and uses genre-film conventions and themes to weave a story that sees humanity transcending horrors. The members of the ensemble cast — headed up by Sonia Mietielica as slightly older girl and de facto group mother figure Hanka, along with Nicolas Przygoda as lone German refugee “Kraut” and Kamil Polnisiak as the psychologically wounded Wladek, both rivals for her affection — are all remarkable.
They portray children who are practically feral because of their brutalization in the prison camps, fighting over scraps of food and having no clue how to use utensils at a table. Abandoned or attacked — inside a mansion with little food or water — by the Russian adults meant to protect them, they find themselves trying to stave off attacks from rogue prison camp dogs trained to attack and kill them on sight. The action scenes are tense and thrilling, especially the more that rivalries and personalities within the core group are revealed. Equally riveting are scenes that are heartachingly touching and compassionate. Werewolf is a powerful work, beautifully shot, directed, and acted, with a fine message of hope among the bleakness and violence.