“Vakvagany,” which translates into “Dead End,” is a haunting film that causes viewers to become dirty little voyeurs peeping in windows that are perhaps best left alone. You literally take out of it what you bring in, and that’s not always a good thing.
The film acts as an “experiment in cinematic language” that “seeks to explore the meaning and memories created by celluloid images.” It has no actors and no plot, but it does feature commentary by demon dog James Ellroy, filmmaker Stan Brakhage and psychiatrist Dr. Roy Menninger, who serve as tour guides giving their own spin of what is happening on the screen.
The catalyst for this sometimes disturbing film is found (stolen, to be honest) home movies from Budapest, Hungary. They feature the Locsei family’s life after World War II (sans Tom Hanks). Like any family, they seem to have problems, especially when it comes to their son and daughter, but what these problems are is open to interpretation. Dad’s job is suspect and Mom may be a tad too friendly with her son, Erno. Or is Dad a friend to the Jews and Mom just doing what moms did in Central Europe at that time? Ellroy has his own opinion and Dr. Menninger has a thoroughly different one. Viewers will think whatever they want to, too. Go in mistrusting of humans and prepare to be sickened. Be a bit more optimistic and find a film that verges on maudlin. One thing is for sure, Erno and his sister strayed off the road to normal at some point in their lives. What caused their mental problems, however, is a bit of a mystery … or is it?
“Vakvagany” doesn’t pretend to have answers, despite what the commentators may think, and that is what makes this film (which is greatly enhanced by a wonderful score courtesy of the Alloy Orchestra) so captivating. It’s a moving abstract painting where certain images stand out more than others, though it is never too clear what those images are. Viewers should take that as a warning, too. If humanity leaves a bad taste in your mouth, this film is only going to draw more bile up from the depths of your soul with no expectation of fast relief. In fact, things will only get worse as the film progresses. That, however, has to be expected when James Ellroy, incredible writer and interesting person that he is, is the voice of reason.
Proceed with caution, but do proceed. You’ll see nothing else like this for quite some time — guaranteed.