by Marta Bałaga
- Presented as part of Venice's Biennale College Cinema alongside two other projects, Petra Szőcs’ debut feature feels more like a sketch but shows serious promise
In Deva [+see also:
interview: Petra Szőcs
film profile], her story of an orphaned albino girl, Kató, whose unremarkable life in a small Romanian town changes with the arrival of a new female volunteer, Bogi (and after being electrocuted while blow-drying her hair, although it’s hard to keep a straight face while writing this sentence), poet Petra Szőcs doesn’t spell anything out. While the synopsis, and certainly the setting, seems to suggest a somehow familiar social-realist drama, Deva is much more elusive than that. With a character that immediately grabs your attention thanks to her striking, unusual looks, only to then awkwardly try to shake it all off, it remains a mystery through and through, as no obvious lessons are learnt nor wisdoms exchanged. The film is screening as part of Biennale College Cinema at the Venice Film Festival.
Inspired by a real-life girl, also named Kató and briefly glimpsed at the very beginning, Szőcs opted to work with Csengelle Nagy instead and clearly revels in her choice. At times, Deva seems to be shot in one never-ending close-up, celebrating Nagy’s face and subtle changes in her behaviour. It’s interesting that the director, no stranger to A-list festivals thanks to her acclaimed shorts, actually decides to come so close – especially as her character seems to have her heart set on keeping her distance at all costs. Although clearly fascinated by the new volunteer, the bond between the two develops slowly, as does any other relationship in Kató’s life, punctuated by strangers who just come and go, rarely leaving a mark.
“Deva is a film about the transitional state between childhood and young adulthood, and the strangeness and ambiguity of this age,” argued the director, and perhaps it’s quite fitting that her feature debut feels somewhere in between, more of a sketch than a fully constructed drama. But there is tenderness here and a complete lack of superiority with which she looks at her confused protagonists, which bodes well for the future. In the case of her latest effort, the oft-repeated mantra “I want my film to ask questions, not to give answers”, although still justifiably dreaded by any journalist, finally seems to make sense.
Selected for Biennale College, which has been held for the sixth consecutive year, the Hungarian film Deva was produced by Péter Fülöp, of FP Films. French firm Wide Management is handling its international sales.
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