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DELTA (director/writer: Kornél Mundruczó; screenwriter: Yvette Biro; cinematographer: Matyas Erdely; editor: David Jancso; music: Gabor Balazs; cast:Félix Lajkó (Mihail), Orsi Tóth (Fauna), Lili Monori (Mother), Sándor Gáspár (Mother’s lover); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Philippe Bober/Viktória Petrányi; Facets Video; 2008-Hungary/Germany-in Hungarian with English subtitles)
Agloomy fable about Eastern European misery and incest along the Danube, that’s semi-interesting without being interesting.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó (“Johanna“/”Pleasant Days) helms a gloomy fable about Eastern European misery and incest along the Danube, that’s semi-interesting without being interesting. It’s cowritten by Mundruczó and Yvette Biro, who evoke Old Testament unforgiving responses to questions about judgment and sin. It reminds one in its visuals, slow pace and sparse dialogue of a film by his fellow countryman Béla Tarr (mentioned in the opening credits), but lacks the ideas and purpose to otherwise compare favorably.

A hirsute and laconic young man named Mihail (Félix Lajkó), who is financially independent, takes a ferry home to a remote delta on the Danube, after many years away. His sullen mom (Lili Monori), who lives with her burly lover (Sándor Gáspár), who the stepson never met before, tells him there’s no room in the house. So Mihail takes off to the isolated delta waterway to live in his late father’s abandoned cabin and his spindly sister Fauna (Orsi Tóth), someone he’s a stranger to, tags along to spend the night with him. Mihail then builds his dream house there and his sister moves in with him, as the two gentle outsiders fall in love. Mom’s surly lover detests Mikhail and rails against this relationship, and in anger rapes his stepdaughter (which we see as a blur from a great distance). Meanwhile the local pub dwellers stare coldly at the mystery man when he comes to mom’s bar to swill brandy. The couple of childlike innocents are not concerned about the incest, but the locals can’t let it go as the film builds to its foreboding Straw Dogs like climax of how the villagers respond like animals to a house warming.

Its best asset is the stunningly beautiful photography of the river scenes by Mátyás Eldély. When all else failed to develop, except for a lasting sense of sadness, at least the tranquility of the river was well-worth looking at.

The arthouse film won the Fipresci Prize at Cannes and the Grand Prize and Critics Award at Hungarian Film Week.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”