Just the Wind: Berlin Film Review

Berlinale Film Festival
A tough and uncompromising vision of a Romany family under the threat of extinction.

Director Bence Fliegauf returns to his gritty Hungarian roots following the 2010 sci-fi drama "Womb."

An aesthetically absorbing, narratively scaled-down day-in-the-life of a Romany family menaced by a series of racist attacks, Bence Fliegauf’s Just the Wind (Czak a Szél) has the Magyar maverick returning to his gritty homeland roots after 2010’s sci-fi drama Womb. Showcasing the director’s robust technical skills and passion for the underside of Hungarian life, this intense but demanding slice of social realism will need critical support to carry it beyond a Berlin competition slot into select art houses.

Kicking off with a title card explaining how, between 2008 and 2009, a number of Hungarian-based Romanies were targeted by death squads that burned down their homes and killed at least six of them, the film immediately sets the grounds for its likely denouement, then jumps into the early-morning hours of one such family living in a secluded rural settlement.

Through the sparse interior lighting and tightly cramped images of cinematographer Zoltan Lovasi (who also shot Fliegauf’s debut, Forest), we are slowly introduced to cleaning woman Mari (Katalin Toldi) and her two children, studious teenager Anna (Gyongyi Lendvai) and her younger mischief-making brother, Rio (Lajos Sarkany), while they make their way out of bed and into the quiet morning.

Cutting between the three of them as the day progresses until the setting sun brings its tide of impending doom, we catch glimpses of how the family scrapes by through work, school and play in a land where their people are essentially unwelcome: While Mari and Anna deal with either scornful authority figures or their sordid neighbors, Rio wanders around their ramshackle commune, stealing from the living and the dead and catching word from two investigating policemen (Attila Egyed, Laszlo Cziffer) of what may lie in store.

There are strains of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant and Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu in the film’s 24-hour-ticking-clock structure, and Fliegauf mixes the foreboding backstory of one with the handheld, documentary intensity of the other to create an atmosphere that’s consistently menacing and strikingly realistic. Credited as both art director and composer (along with Tamas Beke), he builds a rugged backdrop of makeshift homes filled with rotted furnishings and piles of junk, while the minimalist score uses just a few chords to give the film its anxious undertone.

Such aesthetic prowess helps improve on what’s otherwise a bare-bones storyline that meanders in its midsection, only to gain some momentum toward the end. Because rather than shaping a traditional narrative arc, Fliegauf seems interested in depicting, as closely and carefully as possible, the subtle, silent humanity that lies beneath the prejudice and squalor. “There’s no point in shooting decent gypsies,” comments one of the cops, but the film inevitably proves how even the good folk are at risk in such a climate.

Relentlessly tracked by the director’s roving camera, the three actors — all making their screen debut — come off completely naturally, delivering minimal dialogue and revealing themselves through small moments of camaraderie. As the crafty and stoical Rio, Sarkany becomes the movie’s guiding moral light, and his final, open-ended sequence is one of both hope and despair.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition)
Production companies: Inforg-M&M Film, The Post Republic Halle, Paprika Films
Cast: Katalin Toldi, Gyongyi Lendvai, Lajos Sarkany, Gyorgy Toldi
Director, screenwriter: Bence Fliegauf
Producers: Monika Mecs, Andras Muhi, Erno Mesterhazy
Director of photography: Zoltan Lovasi
Art director: Bence Fliegauf
Music: Bence Fliegauf, Tamas Beke
Costume designer: Sosa Juristovszky
Editor: Xavier Box
Sales Agent: The Match Factory
No rating, 99 minutes