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Hungarian twist on Frankenstein proves frustrating tease for worn-out press

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2010-05-22

The second-to-last competition film, Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project, by Hungarian Kornel Mundruczo, is a seductive exercise with lots of style and little on its mind. Not exactly what exhausted critics were looking for at the festival's end.

The Riviera sun has been shining brightly, but one would never know it from the grayish complexions and red-rimmed eyes of journalists queuing for a press screening of the second-to-last competition entry: Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project, a Hungarian film by Kornel Mundruczo. And judging by the handfuls of people who fled the theatre muttering grumpily before the movie was over, and the scattered boos that could be heard as the final credits rolled, the diagnosis was clear: Cannes fatigue has settled in, and it just might be incurable.

The film itself is an alluring, although not exactly successful, addition to the competition lineup. A modern re-interpretation of Mary Shelley's classic gothic novel, this version's monster is a teenage boy who returns to Budapest after a stint in some sort of institution, and becomes entangled in a murderous web involving his dour mother, a mysterious film director, and a girl to whom he bluntly declares his undying love.


That description probably makes the film sound slightly more exciting than it is. It starts off as an intriguing slow burn: Mundruczo uses humour (scenes of would-be actors auditioning for a film are hilarious) and an accomplished visual style (the building in which most of the action takes place is a claustrophobic maze of dank hallways and jagged, snow-coated ledges) to build a sense of impending doom. Newcomer Rudolf Frecska, playing the brutish, monosyllabic adolescent of the title, holds the screen nicely; with his wounded stare and eyebrows perpetually raised in anticipation, he's a soulful blank.

For an hour or so, Munruczo, who was in competition here in 2008 with Delta, pulls off the neat trick of making a well-known story feel fresh and unpredictable. But he doesn't seem to have any new thematic spin on this material, and those expecting the film to gel into a vision of adolescence or the obsessiveness of the creative process will leave baffled. As the dead bodies pile up, the filmmaker's style and sense of narrative playfulness are as assured as ever. Each murder is a deftly staged, small-scale set piece, and later scenes echo earlier ones provocatively. The film as a whole, though, is one big tease: a seductive exercise in the macabre as such - it may catch jury president Tim Burton's eye - that goes nowhere very interesting and has nothing much to say.

In other words, probably not what festivalgoers worn down after a second week of often disappointing back-to-back screenings were looking for.

 

Date created : 2010-05-22

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