Friday 21 June 2024

Raindance 2024: Árni

Dorka Vermes' debut feature Árni has already enjoyed outings at both the Hong Kong International Film Festival and La Biennale (the film was developed by Venice's Biennale College Cinema initiative), and it continues to play the fest circuit with a screening at this year's Raindance Film Festival.  As of now, Raindance has been moved from its traditional autumn berth in the festival calendar, and the 2024 edition will occupy a midsummer slot, running June 19–28; shifting the festival away from the crowded autumn season seems a sensible move, although Raindance 2024 is very much a pilot edition as far as its timing is concerned.  A ticket for Wednesday's UK premiere of Árni includes a nice extra in the form of a Q&A session with the film's director.

Vermes, who previously directed the short films Anyák napja and Alba Vulva, has made a remarkably assured film in Árni , in which the lead role is played by the excellent Péter Turi—an actor who provided the inspiration for both the title character and film.  Turi's Árni is a handyman at a travelling circus, and he appears to be the only non-family member in the setup.  The circus itself is a truly joyless spectacle, one populated by forlorn animals and grim-faced humans, and Árni appears to have more in common with the creatures he cares for than the family circle he sits on the fringes of.  Árni is a hard worker: in addition to looking after the circus' animals, he is tasked with various other jobs such as putting up advertising boards and recruiting local manpower to help erect the big top.   

While Árni says very little, it's clear that he's a much deeper thinker than most of his colleagues, who are content to party the night away once the day's business has been concluded (it doesn't take very long to tot up the daily sales of souvenir pictures and bags of popcorn).  But Árni's quotidian drudge is interrupted by the arrival of a python, who the family have ordered for the circus' reptile show segment; the snake is way bigger than expected, and as such the owners of the circus are wary of incorporating it into their act.  Yet Árni forms a bond with the reptile, whose presence seems to unnerve many of the other workers.  The film's final stretch sees it take a sharp left turn as it moves into an extended trance-like sequence in which Árni, for once, takes centre stage in his work milieu.   

I'm not sure if this closing passage is entirely successful but, for the most part, Árni is a highly compelling work.  Wednesday's screening of the film takes place at the Curzon Soho—one of five London venues being used for this year's festival (the others being the Genesis, Prince Charles and Curzon Mayfair cinemas, with the industry hub based at Wonderville on Haymarket).  Made under the auspices of none other than Béla Tarr (Werckmeister Harmonies, The Turin Horse), who, seven years ago, was the subject of an exhibition and retrospective at Amsterdam's EYE FilmmuseumÁrni is nominated for several awards at this year's Raindance: Best Debut Director, Best Performance in a Debut, and the Discovery Award for Best Debut Feature.  Don't bet against it winning at least one of these prizes.  

Darren Arnold

Images: Proton Cinema