Dir: Arpad Sopsits. Hungary. 2009. 107mins.
Coming of age turns into a painful and confusing affair in Arpad Sopsits' disturbing and excessively intellectual portrait of teenagers trying to make sense of their existence. Told through a series of flashbacks based on a 14 year old suicide's diary, Sopsits offers a mature debate on faith, the nature of God and other existential questions. The problem is it all sounds rather incongruous coming from youngsters who have (presumably) only recently reached puberty. While it may encounter censorship problems in territories sensitive to adolescent suicides, it is certain to draw attention from festivals and art houses wooed by favourable critiques.
A child demon, Sebestyen (Krikkay, introduced via a spectacular dolly zoom), swoops on a group of children, playing on an empty lot near their village. With a steely look in his eye he initially entrances his youthful audience with a masterful handling of knives. He goes on to challenge their courage, plant seeds of doubt in their souls, confront them with destruction and death, goad them into dangerous games, install himself as their leader and vanish, before returning to torment them again. While parents and teachers fail recognise the extent of the evil so close at hand, various local institutions are incapable of handling Sebastyen's presence. The young village priest (Trill), is the only one ready to do battle, but he fails to measure up to his far more resourceful adversary.
Sebastyen wields enticing catchphrases in his attempt to lure the adolescents: "Hope and fear create God" and "Law exists only to keep evil at bay". To make sure of their allegiance he adds some magic to his already impressive repertoire - at one point reviving a dead pigeon in front of his gaping admirers. Sopsit's protagonist represents all the troubles, qualms and uncertainties lurking in the darker recesses of unformed souls.
Sopsits, whose Abandoned (2001) dealt with similar themes, is evidently concerned with the lack of care in child rearing. He pulls no punches here and there's an inevitably tragic climax. Two boys, the angelic Sanyi (Vilmanyi) and the much rougher Jakab (Eross) - the first fearing he might be called a coward, the second, neglected by his father and tricked into believing that death is merely a transitional stage - decide to kill themselves.
This film is well shot and carefully edited. Sopsits' young cast perform wonders with sensitive performances that speak volumes for them and the director. Nevertheless, it's a pity they cannot always act their age, particularly when they have to deliver dialogues that sound out of place in their mouths.