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'Hukkle' artfully arranges life's rhythms

"Hukkle" is a movie with a name that's nice to say. It's the sound that a hiccup makes, and just to prove it, the Hungarian director Gyorgy Palfi has cast a very old man with a terrible case of hiccups to sprinkle his movie with "hukkles."

It's not the only sound in this bewitching little movie, but it is the most insistent. The old man is part of a greater village ecosystem that moves in syncopation with his affliction. The point has something to do with daily rhythm, and so when the hukkles give way to a cat on its back, mewling its last breaths, you're meant to understand that the circle of living will complete itself sooner than expected. Death, here, rhymes with life.

"Hukkle" opens today at the Museum of Fine Arts, and it belongs to that genre of movies that uses skilled editing and clever close-up shot making to bring magic to the mundane. ("Microcosmos," with its giant bugs, and Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" and its followups come to mind.) Palfi started working on the film in 1998, but the years have been condensed into a tidy, coolly digestible 75 minutes of chirping insects and buzzing sewing machines. There's scarcely any dialogue, and the "hukkle" sound is universal enough to make subtitles unnecessary and to please an audience of any age and attention span.

The movie, which Poharnok Gergely photographed and Marinkas Gabor edited, creates its own geometries in a way that happily weds the natural and the man-made. There's a lovely passage, for instance, in which a chugging machine collects wheat from a field. The wheat is taken to a factory that eventually turns it all into flour that is bagged, sealed, shipped, sold, and opened, by an old woman who uses it to bread her chicken.

Palfi even tries his hand at comedy: One local chap dozes off while steering his buggy, and how beautiful is his snoring! And who would have thought a rolling boccie ball could transition visually to the testicles of a walking pig? Gergely's camerawork is alluring. A lot of the shots start extremely tight on an image, then pull back to reveal what the image is, but not before you've turned your head this way or that trying to determine what it is you're watching. Parts of the film can be like those super-close-up picture riddles in Boys' Life magazine, only "Hukkle" doesn't make you wait until the end for an answer.

Those sewing machines produce the movie's most enthralling rhythm. The rumbling shakes the tables, letting out a sound more tropical than anything you'd expect to come out of Eastern Europe. The movie is so precisely and hypnotically assembled it could have been directed by a particularly whimsical metronome.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

Written and directed by: Gyorgy Palfi
At: Museum of Fine Arts, various dates through July 8
Running time: 75 minutes

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