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Bibliotheque Pascal: Denver Film Festival Review

In Bibliotheque Pascal, stoic gypsy vagabond Mona (Orsolya Torok-Illyes) floats from town to town and lover to lover until one day she is held hostage by Viorel (Andi Vasluianu), a fugitive who beat up and accidentally killed a guy for being gay. What is essentially a kidnapping blossoms into a brief and unlikely romance. Viorel is dead soon enough, and Mona is pregnant. Their daughter is born, and it is soon discovered that she shares a strange gift with her late father – she can project her dreams. Misfortune separates Mona from her daughter, sending her spiraling across Europe and eventually into the most bizarre brothel in England, Bibliotheque Pascal.

This movie feels like the story Gabriel Garcia Marquez would have written had he hailed from Eastern Europe instead of Mexico, and not just because it features many obvious magical realist flourishes, such as Mono’s daughter’s dream projections. More significantly, like the protagonists in many of Marquez’s novels, Mona is stoic in the face of all the madness and sorrow life throws at her. She has a singular purpose that weathers the worst the world can throw at her.

Bibliotheque Pascal is a bit of a misnomer for this movie, as the brothel itself is only one episode amongst many. But boy, what an episode. After being tricked into sexual slavery and shipped to England, Mona is quickly bought up by Pascal (Shamgar Amram), who runs a very exclusive, very upper crust brothel. Pascal comes across as charming rogue at first, but once the details of his operation emerge the charm fades quickly. Each room in the brothel’s basement is dedicated to a literary character. This idea is ludicrous and hilarious at first, but as with Pascal himself, the devil is in the details. There are rooms dedicated to Joan of Arc, Dorian Grey, Pinocchio, and the dreaded Desdemona room. Again, this may sound funny on a surface level, but take a second to think about what might be happening in these themed rooms and I think you’ll start to get the picture. Director/writer Szabolcs Hajdu and editor Peter Politzer excel at balancing this very sick underbelly of the sex trade with Mona’s quest to be reunited with her daughter.

Ultimately, Bibliotheque Pascal succeeds more as a series of interesting vignettes that happen to feature the same protagonist than as a cohesive whole. There’s a tacked on message at the end of the movie about the power of imagination that is hamfisted at best and went a long way toward unraveling the spell cast by much of the rest of the movie. It feels as though Hajdu understood that his series of compelling stories didn’t add up to much and tried in vain to tie it all together into something cohesive. Oh well. Bibliotheque Pascal is not a classic, but features more than enough compelling moments, images, moods, and characters to make it worth a recommendation.

Magic Moment: With puppet shows, unicycles, and juggling objects on fire, Bibliotheque Pascal pays loving homage to what you might call ‘the gypsy arts.’

-Ben

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