Hungary’s entry for the 83rd Academy Awards, Bibliothèque Pascal is a film very much at home in Fantastic Fest. It is packed with fantastical, often stunning, imagery, terrifying human behavior–the second half of the film deals largely with human trafficking–and cool Hungarian culture stuff too. It’s an odd film which is strangely paced and thematically scattered while also being peculiarly upbeat. And though it takes its sweet time coming around to it, by the end of the film all of the rambling ideas sort of coalesce to make a fairly cogent, if not completely original, point.
The story is Mona’s (Orsolya Török-Illyés). It is relayed to us via a meeting with a social worker which bookends the film. She begins: Off at the beach one day Mona is apprehended by a wanted criminal, Viorel (Andi Vasluianu). It is at this point that Pascal reveals its fantastic leanings, as it is discovered that Viorel projects his dreams. That is to say, when he is sleeping, his dreams actually occur around him. Anyway, Viorel steals Mona away and wins her pity for a night and–bing, bang, boom–9 months later Mona has a child. Fast forward even more, and while raising her child, Mona is called away by here father who needs her to travel to Britain with him. She is again apprehended by criminals and this time is sold into sexual slavery. She winds up at THE Bibliothèque Pascal, where she meets good natured awful person, and small-business owner, Pascal (Shamgar Amram). Though it hardly needs to be said, the business he runs is suitably strange.
Török-Illyés plays her part well, though it involves being stone-faced and passive for much of the film. Others aren’t quite as good, and many of the characters never develop beyond caricature. Amram, in particular, has a good meaty character character that he largely squanders. But Pascal has enough rabbit-hole propulsion and interesting ideas that its easy to forgive its less than developed cast of characters. By the end of the film (total spoiler at the end of this sentence), writer/director Szabolcs Hajdu satisfyingly brings together most of the loose ends and disconnected images, and what he can’t bring together is justified by the film’s major conceit: this is all Mona’s fantasy. And thus the film abandons ideas of dream projection and bizarre sex trafficking for a much more cohesive point: our imagination is our best defense against a cruel, horrific world. And though it’s a little too tidy of a bow, it’s also shockingly cathartic (thanks to Török-Illyés) and much more satisfying than, say, an elaborate wormhole aided suicide or something (lookin’ at you Donnie Darko). Pascal may not be a future Academy Award winner, but it definitely deserves an audience.