By Laura Oliveira
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival review
Director: Attila Till
Drama, action, intensity, humor, family and relationship struggles, disability grief and a twist ending all wrapped into one is Kills on Wheels in a nutshell. With so much going on in this Hungarian dramedy, writer-director Attila Till’s manages to keep the audience engaged and involved throughout the film’s 105-minute run time.
The story begins with the somewhat bizarre friendship of the disabled Zolti (Zoltán Fenyvesi) and Barba (Adám Fekete), as they design a comic book centered on the life of an ex-firefighter turned hitman, Rupaszov (Thuróczy Szabolcs). Due to an accident, Rupa is now a paraplegic and therefore bound to a wheelchair, yet he feels a sense of hope to someday walk again. While Zolti also spends much of his time in a wheelchair due to spinal problems, he seems to have a hard time dealing with his disability compared to Rupa.
The boys create Rupa to be their comic book star, though they make sure to include themselves as his sidekicks. Rupa’s depth is endless; he deals with relationship issues and near death experiences, and has a strong will to live life to the fullest. In the comic, the boys are brought into Rupa’s hitman world, where tensions are high. Life hangs in the balance for every character as they carry out assassinations under the employment of killer Rados (Dusan Vitanovics). Things are further complicated as a result of their physical restrictions so the three of them have to be creative.
Till’s film evokes the struggles that many of the disabled have to deal with, along with the ways in which society might add to those difficulties. While some may argue that disabilities put people at a disadvantage, the filmmaker’s inventive depictions of the handicapped demonstrate the capabilities of his characters (he even includes actors with disabilities, adding to the authenticity of the film). Although the advantages that disabilities bring apparently involve clever ways to kill, they are advantages nonetheless, as the characters are capable of getting away with things others might not be able to. The film makes being in a wheelchair limitless in ways most people wouldn’t imagine and creates the ultimate superhero or villain, however you might see it.
A large part of the story involves family struggles with Zolti and his mother (Monika Balsai), as she searches for a way to convince Zolti to take money from his father in order to pay for a surgery that will save his life. Zolti, on the other hand, seems to want nothing to do with his father, who abandoned the family because of Zolti’s disability. Determined to keep his father out of his life, Zolti resolves to pay for the surgery himself with the money the boys could make through publishing the comic book.
The film seamlessly blends comic illustrations into the drama, allowing the narrative to flow elegantly between the story’s two distinct layers of reality. We see the boys drawing and creating beautiful illustrations as the film engages in the action of the comic, before fading back into the real world; it is quite a creative and visually appealing touch.
While it was evidently Till’s intention to bring a layer of humor to the drama, some of the comedy seems to get lost in translation and the humor that does come through is dark enough to alienate certain viewers. Nonetheless, Kills on Wheels is a touching, raw and intense feature that has been beautifully crafted to bring awareness to disabilities. It might not be for everyone, but it is definitely worth the watch, especially for those interested in dark comedy and comic book action narratives.
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