Inspired by real events, Magyar auteur Bence Fliegauf’s “Just the Wind” puts a human face on the victims of racially motivated violence. Creating an atmosphere of mounting threat without ever resorting to histrionics, this spare, naturalistic drama centers on a Romany family from an isolated village where five other such families were gunned down in their own homes. At a time when Hungarian politics are taking an increasingly nationalistic turn, the pic’s frank acknowledgment of the country’s entrenched racism appears especially brave. Kudos and critical support will help “Wind” blow into international arthouse venues.
Unfolding in an often murky visual style and at a measured pace that repays patience, the main narrative hinges on a tense 24-hour period during which middle-aged Mari (Katalin Toldi) rises with the sun and works two jobs in between caring for her invalid father (Gyorgi Toldi). Meanwhile, responsible teen Anna (Gyongyi Lendvai) goes to school, and bold 11-year-old Rio (Lajos Sarkany) plays hooky and prepares a secret den deep in the forest.
Although a brief, pre-title sequence provides a plaintive song and a glimpse of a funeral, an explanation for the somber, siege-like atmosphere hanging over the village emerges only gradually through an accumulation of telling details. Among the most chilling are Anna’s Internet search results for “gypsy murders” and a conversation Rio overhears between two policemen, one of whom remarks that he could suggest some gypsy parasites for the killers to knock off rather than these hard-working families. This sort of casual, institutionalized racism also rears its ugly head at Anna’s school, where the custodian sneeringly insinuates that she might have stolen some computer equipment, and on the street, where a drunken thug manhandles Mari.
Shot on location in Romany settlements, “Just the Wind” offers a gritty, low-key depiction of its characters’ lives intercut with lyrical shots of the natural landscape. Thankfully, Fliegauf resists the movie cliches of wild gypsy music, chaotic dancing and picturesque all-nighters by a campfire. Although there are flashes of alcohol abuse and idle adolescents as Anna and Rio pass by their neighbors’ rundown homes, more than anything else, we experience the mundane existence of the main characters. The non-pro thesps from the Romany community contribute credible, naturalistic performances, with Katalin Toldi and Sarkany particular standouts.
Shooting in natural light conditions in a claustrophobic handheld style, Zoltan Lovasi (d.p. on Fliegauf’s debut, “Forest”) creates a sense of unease and oppression, but the nighttime scenes were annoyingly dim at the digital press screening caught. Still, the cool, clinical visuals in the film’s epilogue provide a punch to the gut. As ever with Fliegauf’s films, the sound design (by Tamas Beke, the helmer’s collaborator on 2010’s “Womb”) is particularly strong and crucial to the story. The score, composed by Fliegauf and Beke, is used at just a few intervals.
For the record, the helmer used the first name Benedek on his previous films.