Unconventional happiness and social cruelty
by Fabien Lemercier
- Captivating Hungarian film Delta plunges into the wild natural surroundings of the Danube delta in search of a lost paradise where the shadows of tragedy lurk
At 33, he was the youngest director in competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, but Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó is certainly not the least talented. Delta [+see also:
interview: Kornél Mundruczó
interview: Orsi Tóth
film profile], his third feature, proudly confirms his highly personal style and the enormous potential of this emerging young star.
Staggeringly beautiful from an aesthetic perspective, the film manages to captivate viewers despite its minimalist plot and dialogues. This impressive feat is achieved thanks to the charisma of the two lead actors (Orsi Toth and debut actor Lajko Felix, a famous violinist and composer of Delta’s excellent score) and a keen directorial style.
An ode to the beauty of wild nature filmed in the Danube Delta in Romania, the feature – co-written by the director and Yvette Biro – takes its initial inspiration from the classical theatre of Shakespeare and Euripides. Returning to his native village after a long absence, a nameless man builds a house on stilts in the middle of nowhere, aided by his half-sister whom he has just met and ostracised by his mother and stepfather.
Amidst the magnificent landscapes – filmed without special effects – the brother and sister watch and discover one another and end up falling in love in the middle of this garden of Eden, a sort of paradise lost which they slowly and silently tame. But in Mundruczó’s world, unconventional happiness is never to society’s taste and this leads to tragedy.
"Some people think they’ve got the right to persecute those who don’t bow to convention", said the filmmaker. "I’m more inclined to accept Rousseau’s idea that man is naturally good in a primitive state and is then corrupted by society".
The director conveys this philosophy through a lyrical style reminiscent of Terence Malick, a masterful approach full of subtle atmospheres and understated emotions, including during an awful and lengthy rape scene, which is glimpsed from afar.
Delta was originally hampered mid-shoot by the death of the lead actor Lajos Bertok in Spain and production had to start over again from scratch. The finished work is as fascinating and dazzling as it is uncompromising, in particular in its brutal ending, which is as shocking as the blade that falls.
A figurehead of the promising young generation of Hungarian auteur directors (György Pálfi, Szabolcs Hajdu, Benedek Fliegauf, Roland Vranik, Aron Gauder and Agnes Kocsis, among others), Mundruczó was lauded at Locarno in 2002 for his debut work Pleasant Days [+see also:
film profile] and attracted attention in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2005 with Johanna [+see also:
With Delta, the director – who gladly cites Fassbinder and Bergman among his influences – continues his rise to fame without straying from his rigorous artistic and moral standards, while he could quite easily shoot a mainstream thriller. But unlike some of his compatriots who are lured by the appeal of Hollywood, Mundruczó prefers to continue along the path of quality European auteur film, which will soon lead him to make a screen adaptation of Frankenstein, which he brought to the stage last year.
Produced by Proton Cinema, German company Essential Filmproduktion and Hungary’s Filmpartners, Delta received backing from the Hungarian Culture Ministry, the Hungarian Film Foundation, ZDF, Mitteldeutsche Medienforderung, MedienBoard, TV2 Hungary and Budapest Film. The latter company released the film to success in Hungary in autumn 2008.
(Translated from French)