Review: On the Quiet
- In his first feature film, Zoltán Nagy shows great finesse as he tackles the highly topical subject of a maestro’s perverse hold over the young talent around him
The beating heart of a violin is a part which is invisible from the outside; a part that’s very small yet essential, because it ensures the right balance within the instrument by transmitting the strings’ vibrations throughout the entire sound box. Much like this highly sensitive mechanism - the correct positioning of which is only known to those initiated in the matter - the perverse manipulation of young artistic talent, which is likewise hidden from view, and carried out by their mentors, is also a sad reality, as revealed by the dark secrets which are now emerging from beneath the surface of the entertainment industry.
It is this highly toxic and delicate subject - to be tackled without falling into caricature - which is very subtly explored in On the Quiet [+see also:
interview: Zoltán Nagy
film profile], Hungarian director Zoltán Nagy’s first feature film which has been gracing cinema billboards in its native country for a week now, and which is making its international debut today, in the First Films competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.
Teenager David (Erik Major) is first violinist in the György Ligety Music School’s orchestra, which is led by Frigyes (Gábor Máté), a good-humoured, married teacher who’s around sixty years of age and an expert in the art of relaxation ("Close your eyes. Shut yourself off to the outside world. Listen only to your inner world"), which he uses in order to draw the best possible performances out of his ensemble of young musicians. Group rehearsals, individual lessons, concerts, competitions travelled to by coach: the quest for musical perfection sets the daily rhythm of David’s life. He practices for six hours a day and only very rarely allows himself to spend brief moments alone with his girlfriend Klári (Dorottya Antóci), who is also a violinist in an orchestra, alongside young cellist Nóri (Lulu Bognár). The latter is 14 years old and soon confesses a very weighty secret to David: "there’s a teacher who behaves really strangely towards me. I should speak to someone about it, but I don’t know who. He touches me."
Utterly dumbstruck by this revelation - all the more so for the guilty party being none other than his mentor Frigyes - David tries to obtain proof in the form of a secret recording during a one-on-one lesson. But the ambiguity of a manipulating pervert such as this is so formidable that the abuse often takes place behind the scenes or within a grey zone which is all too open to convenient interpretation. The victim oscillates between the shame-filled denial and confusion that has been caused to her by an adult in a position of power, whilst the primary reflex of those around them is denial. They refuse to face the sinister truth head on. But none of this will stand in David’s way…
Keeping a very tight hold over his subject (based on a screenplay written alongside János Antal Horváth), Zoltán Nagy cleverly manages to maintain doubt in the viewer’s mind for a large part of the film (is he nothing more than an overly tactile teacher and she an attention-seeking teen?), gradually revealing the whole process whereby, on the one hand, an abuser takes control, and on the other, others struggle to accept the truth (with Judit Schell and Zsófia Szamosi playing David and Nóri’s mothers). It’s a cruelly salutary and elegantly told tale, which also offers a highly accurate, sensorial portrait of the world of classical music lovers, intermingling tension and relaxation, and the majestic beauty of collective creation versus the absolute ugliness of underground manoeuvrings whereby power is abused and young people corrupted.
(Translated from French)
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