Thursday, 16 February 2012
'Just the Wind' Berlinale (Competition) review:
Reminiscent of last year's equally bleak and gritty Albania-set 'The Forgiveness of Blood', Hungarian film 'Just the Wind' - or 'Csak a Szél' - is similarly about a rural family living under the threat of violence. But whereas that other film was focussed on the entirely regionally specific problem of inter-familial blood feuds, Bence Fliegauf's film concerns the murder of Romani families - with gypsies being massacred in the night by shotgun wielding thugs out of centuries old prejudice. An opening paragraph tells us that the events of this film, though fictionalised, are based on actual recent anti-gypsy attacks in Hungary. Again like 'Forgiveness' this is a very carefully researched and authentic feeling piece.
It's set over a single day in which we follow a middle-aged mother Mari (Katalin Toldi) and her two children - teenage Anna (Gyongyi Lendvai) and younger brother Rio (Lajos Sarkany) - as they go about their regular business under the shadow of recent violence and suspicion within their own community. Rio seems lazy as he sleeps in to avoid school, but he's really just too worried to be on the streets - spending his day hiding in the nearby trees and stealing supplies for an emergency hideout. Anna sees school as an escape and a means to learn English, the dream being to join her father in Canada. Mari, the breadwinner, is far too busy to worry about anything in between working two cleaning jobs and tending to her ailing father.
All three encounter prejudice and kindness from outsiders. Anna is neglected by her teacher, who encourages other students to pay attention but seems oblivious to her lying face-down on the desk. Yet she also knows people who admire her drawings, trading make-up for her tattoo designs. Mari is given a bag of new clothes for her children by one sympathetic boss, though another disrespects her and implies that she smells. Rio, whilst in hiding, bears witness to the most astounding prejudice of all as he hears one police officer tell another that recent gypsy attacks have been - to some extent - justified.
This rural cop startles his colleague from the city, bemoaning the fact that gypsy children grow up and he doesn't come far short of endorsing future killings of families, suggesting he could show gangs where the worst families live. As with the other examples, this scene is balanced by the other cop who is horrified to encounter such a mentality within the police. It's these moments that prevent the film from suggesting Hungarian society is completely prejudiced. The thugs clearly represent a vocal minority and are acting on many of the lazy stereotypes we hear cited throughout the movie. Ironically, these murderers want to kill gypsies whose dream is to leave the country anyway.
In terms of examining the Romani people's status in this community, the richest scene involves Anna being present in a school locker room as another girl - a pale-skinned western European - is sexually assaulted (possibly raped). The victim of the attack never calls to her, the attackers clearly don't see her as a witness to their crime or as another potential victim, and Anna does nothing - this is not a society in which she feels like, or is treated as, an equal participant. A nuanced and well-paced film that leads to an incredibly tense finale, 'Just the Wind' is one of the best of this year's Berlinale.