10 March 2009 | friedt
a murder mystery and the gypsy lieutenant
The name of the murder victim found with a candle in his mouth suggests that he is an outsider in Hungary. The lead detective, Lieutenant Sapphire, is a gypsy, who despite being adopted and raised by "regular" Hungarians, has his nose rubbed in his minority status every day. His sidekick is Jewish, the prime suspect is another gypsy sleeping with the murdered man's wife, and for good measure, there are despised Romanians among the petty criminals and potential witnesses. These are some of the principals in Gabor Detter's brilliant examination of a society brimming with ethnic resentments, told within the conventions of a police procedural.
The murder mystery, however, is no mere excuse for some sort of sociological polemic about the tensions in Hungarian post-communist society. Rather, whatever we learn about the frictions between outsiders and "real" Hungarians as embodied by Kocsis, the precinct captain, emerges naturally from the investigation: the interrogations, the footwork, and the speculation among the cops, witnesses, and suspects. The lanky Lt. Sapphire, with his hangdog face, is as tough as any hardboiled American detective , but as he is also an Eastern European, he is emotional, loving, wracked by self-doubt, and in love with his vegetarian wife Eva, whose dirty talk is in English and who walks around in the natural as often as she can. And if the case were not complicated enough, why not shelter the teenage gypsy girl who had been sold by her own sister to the murdered man and is the subject of an intense search? Ultimately, "Tableau" is an exhilarating ride for all of its 120 minutes, containing a surprising amount of spoken English, an incredible number of scatological references, significant nudity, and terse, exciting dialogue that is translated into wonderfully idiomatic English subtitles. Also impressive is Detter's visual strategy between scenes, where he puts an extra jump into jump cuts by moving characters magically, an approach that pays off in a beautifully rendered final shot. As for his cinematography, look for a scene in which silvery, rustling tree branches become part of the interior space of the police car where Lt. Sapphire talks with teenage gypsy girl. The image is so perfectly integrated with mood, story and character that it will bring tears to your eyes!