Hungarian director Benedek Fliegauf’s bleak and brutally affecting Eastern block drama Just the Wind (Csak a szél, 2011) was one of the very best films screened at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, rightfully finding itself in the running for the top Golden Bear award. Fliegauf’s latest may still be looking to secure UK distribution, but a hard-fought place in the revitalised LFF’s ‘Debate’ strand may well bring the filmmaker – and his highly topical chosen subject matter – the platform it so richly deserves.
Set in and around an unnamed Hungarian village, news spreads of the sadistic murder of a local impoverished Romany family, quickly alerting other groups in the vicinity. With the violent perpetrators still at large, another family residing close by live out their daily routines in perpetual unease, all too aware of the hatred felt towards them by right-wing hoodlums. Thousands of miles away in Canada, the patriarchal head of the family decides that his wife, children and their grandfather must, for their own safety, join him as soon as possible, despite their almost non-existent income. As nightfall descends upon the forest-surrounded village, the family silently pray for the safety and reassurance of the rising sun.
Fliegauf may not be the most consistent of filmmakers (having directed 2010’s bemusing, Matt Smith-starring sci-fi Clone), Just the Wind sees the Hungarian at the height of his powers. Intentionally sedate and slow-burning, all the way up to its cataclysmic finale, few films this will leave you as shaken (and hopefully challenged) as this unashamedly draining slice of stark social realism.
Fliegauf succeeds in drawing several very impressive performances out of its unknown cast of non-professionals, with Katalin Toldi’s turn as chain-smoking family matriarch Mari arguably the pick of the bunch. Similarly naturalistic are the two youngest members of the central cast (Gyöngyi Lendvai, Lajos Sárkány) as sister and brother Anna and Rió, who carry much of the audience’s sympathy up until the bitter end.
Reputedly based on real-life events in 2008-09, when sixteen Romany homes were attacked with Molotov cocktails and 63 shots fired at the helpless victims with shotguns and rifles, Fliegauf certainly sets his sights on making a relevant, confrontational cinema. Thankfully, Just the Wind proves to be a vital text in the ongoing fight against overt racism and ethnic persecution in the former-Soviet nations. But don’t be fooled – there is great artistry to be found in this unapologetically upsetting drama.