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By Phil Hall | March 8, 2011

“Violent Blue,” the latest feature from Gregory Hatanaka (“Until the Night,” “Mad Cowgirl”), is an avant-garde experiment that may baffle some viewers while invigorating others. The film takes significant risks in regard to plot development, sound recording and cinematography. If it doesn’t always click, at least it makes a bold effort to trying to be something that is very different.

The core story involves adult siblings involved in disastrously obsessive pursuits. Katarina is a music teacher involved in the search for the allegedly unfinished final movement of a symphony composed during the 1930s. Her brother Ondrej is a self-employed electronics expert who has become physically and emotionally isolated – to the point that he uses one of his devices to speak for him, even though there is nothing wrong with his voice.

However, disruptions by unwanted external forces have a major impact on their respective lives. Ondrej’s intruders are somewhat pleasant – attractive young women in his apartment complex who are eager to get him horizontal.  Katarina, though, has a more dangerous problem: her psychotic ex-husband kidnaps her and holds her prisoner in a giant cage.

Hatanaka fills “Violent Blue” with images that are both violent and blue – sometimes simultaneously. The most striking scenes take place at Ondrej’s apartment, where people are engaged in sex while Ondrej fiddles with his electronics.  (He blithely pays them in cash when they are no longer needed, but keeps an S&M leather mask that one of the sex players wears.)  The film also provides an intriguing mix of sound formats, ranging from silent film-style intertitles in lieu of dialogue to English-subtitled Slovak exchanges between the siblings.  Classical musical also blares across the soundtrack while Katarina digs deeper into her search for the hidden history behind the mysterious symphony.

Silvia Suvadova and Jesse Hlubik provide the right degree of off-kilter loopiness to their characters, and their performances are frequently jolting. Less successful, sadly, is Nick Mancuso as the nutty ex-husband – he overplays a part that may have been more effective if his mania was not so pronounced.

“Violent Blue” clocks in at a little more than two hours, which could be seen as too much of a good thing – a leaner production might have been more effective. Still, it is laudable to find an independent production that strives to be unique, and “Violent Blue” deserves merit for pushing the proverbial envelope to greater lengths.

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