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CANNES 2021 Cannes Premiere

Review: Evolution


- CANNES 2021: Kornél Mundruczó and screenwriter Kata Wéber deliver a formally and conceptually phenomenal, shocking work on the impact of the Holocaust through the generations

Review: Evolution

"I’ll have a look" says a soldier of the Red Army to another near the end of the extraordinary, stupefying, feverish, suffocating, petrifying and extreme sequence which opens Evolution [+see also:
interview: Kornél Mundruczó and Kata W…
film profile
, the latest stroke of genius from Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó (who heads the opening credits together with screenwriter Kata Wéber), unveiled in the Cannes Premiere programme of the 74th Cannes Film Festival. And when, near the end of the film, we hear “you’re trying to politicise the issue to avoid taking responsibility. Do you see nothing more, or do you simply not want to see anything more?”, we suspect that between these two moments, many very important messages and signals have been transmitted. The black heart of the film, the Holocaust, is of course momentous, and the way in which the filmmaker tackles this particularly difficult and sensitive subject is unique, artistically exceptional and dazzling.

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In three parts all stylistically different, Evolution examines the impact of the Holocaust on three generations of a same family. The past, there are practically no words to describe it, as the film centres on three men feverishly cleaning, with big helpings of water, of products sprayed everywhere and of frenetic brushing, an empty concrete room which progressively reveals itself to be a shower room whose every little crack and the drainage ducts conceals handfuls of hair, until the moment where the screams of what sounds like a baby ring out, as if coming out of the abyss. This very young child, literally extracted from the bowels of death in a terrifying and moving birth sequence, is named Éva. We find her again as a grandmother (Lili Monori), in the next chapter, which revolves around a totally different structure based on speech. The elderly woman is indeed engaged in a long and very lively discussion with her daughter Léna (Annamária Láng) around the question of whether or not to declare oneself as a Jewish person in the eyes of the Germans, and why. It’s a heated debate between two women who love each other, but of which the eldest, born in Auschwitz, has held onto the mentality and the memory (with terrifying stories) of a survivor, while Léna would like to simply be alive. It is the latter woman that we find again some years later as the mother of Jónás (Goya Rego), a young man attracted to his schoolmate Yasmin (Padmé Hamdemir), and the two lovers of the future have other ideas in mind than to let symbols and conflicts of the past and present get in the way of their desires.

Generational trauma, the desire and the possibility of breaking free, the duty of remembrance and the desire to let go of a heavy burden, the silence and the inability to speak, the flooding and the flames: Evolution pulls on many painful strings tied to complex reflections and explores a crushing subject with a rare intensity. Directed with stunning virtuosity and an immersive creativity, (Yorick Le Saux is the director of photography), the film sometimes places the bar very high in terms of bitterness, impetuosity and radicalism, but this is how it manages to find a very personal window on new horizons for a topic that is otherwise monstrously universal.

Produced by Match Factory Produtions and Proton Cinema, Evolution is sold internationally by The Match Factory.

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(Translated from French)

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