×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘Genesis’

A condemnation of entrenched racism that packs a punch.

Director:
Árpád Bogdán
With:
Milán Csordás, Anna Marie Cseh, Enikő Anna Illési, Lídia Danis, Levente Molnár, Zsolt Kovács, Tamás Ravasz, István Szilvási, Szofi Berki, Dezső Lukács.

1 hour 56 minutes

A surfeit of visual style, however impressive, works against the narrative energy in Hungarian drama “Genesis,” the sophomore feature from Magyar Roma writer-director Árpád Bogdán (“A Happy New Life”). Comprised of three over-stretched, tenuously connected tales about racially motivated violence in contemporary Hungary, the film also suffers from feeling slightly past its sell-by date, since the real-life events that inspired it, the 2008-’09 attacks against the Roma community, have been covered in other films such as Bence Fliegauf’s 2012 Berlinale competition prizewinner “Just the Wind.” But for festival audiences without such context for comparison, the condemnation of entrenched racism will still pack a punch.

Chapter one focuses on Ricsi (Milán Csordás), a Roma boy who lives in an isolated village among his extended family. Surrounded by forests, fields, bonfires, and barking dogs, it’s a location that barely looks as if it belongs to the 20th century, much less the 21st. In an open square, men hack apart freshly slaughtered animals and share the pickings. In contrast, the school where Ricsi travels by bus seems to exist in a different time zone altogether. There, the children learn English by repeating “My mother is a doctor, my father is a policeman.” The irony is overwhelming as Ricsi’s father has just been sentenced to two years in prison for the paltry crime of stealing wood.

The central event connecting the stories is the firebombing of Ricsi’s house and the slaughter of his relatives, an incident the boy barely survives. It’s a crime foretold through whispers and glimpses of newspaper articles about murders in other Roma villages, but in Bogdán’s editing structure, the investigative aftermath is a bit long in coming. Instead, the second (and most interesting) chapter focuses on Virág (Enikő Anna Illési), an energetic, hearing-impaired high school girl with a talent for archery and the courage of her convictions.

Virág has more than the usual teen turmoil going on her life. Her parents are separated and it’s implied that she has been abused by her father. Moreover, she’s just discovered that she’s pregnant by her older boyfriend Misi (Tamás Ravasz), a former special forces serviceman now in charge of a hellacious dog kennel, where the vicious canines are dying of a mysterious illness. But Misi doesn’t seem to be great father material — he’s somehow involved with the Roma murders.

In the Virág chapter, Bogdán most compellingly explores visual concepts to do with genesis and rebirth. In contrast to the deadly fires of the Ricsi tale, Virág is frequently surrounded by calming, womb-like water, whether in the swimming pool or the bathtub. And although the dogs are dying, there is also a new litter.

The final (and most heavy-handed) chapter centers on Hanna (former fashion model Anna Marie Cseh), an important attorney persuaded to take on Misi’s defense. Too frequently repeated scenes of Hanna pounding away on a treadmill make it glaringly obvious that all is not well with her. By the time her past tragedy is revealed, it gives short shrift to the resolution of the court case. And Hanna’s plan for the future plays as much too abrupt.

Family, its absence, and its re-formation lie at the heart of all the chapters. Bogdán, also a theater director known for his work with disadvantaged youth, grew up in a children’s home without a nuclear family and clearly puts a lot of personal material into his screenplay. The stories that the older kids tell Ricsci about a huntsman who kills and eats dogs and a monster in the woods lend tension to the first chapter and gives it the primal quality of a fairy tale.

Csordás and Illési, the non-professional actors playing Ricsi and Virág, do a fine job, but the camera loves Illési, and it’s her story that stands out whether it was meant to or not. Though ultimately overwhelming, the film’s technical aspects benefit from Tamás Dobos’s elemental, widescreen lensing, composer Mihály Víg’s mournful score, and the masterful sound design by Gábor Császár.

Berlin Film Review: 'Genesis'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 18, 2018. Running time: 116 MIN. (Original title: “Genezis”)

Production: (Hungary) A Mirage Film, Focusfox production. (International sales: Hungarian National Film Fund, Budapest.) Producers: Andrea Taschler, Gábor Ferenczy.

Crew: Director, writer: Árpád Bogdán. Camera (color, HD, widescreen): Tamás Dobos. Editor: Péter Politzer. Music: Mihály Víg.

With: Milán Csordás, Anna Marie Cseh, Enikő Anna Illési, Lídia Danis, Levente Molnár, Zsolt Kovács, Tamás Ravasz, István Szilvási, Szofi Berki, Dezső Lukács.

More Film

  • Dragon Ball Super: Broly

    Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’

    Late in “Dragon Ball Super: Broly,” the 20th Japanese anime feature in a 35-year-old franchise that also has spawned scads of TV series, trading cards, video games, mangas, and limited-edition collectibles, a supporting character complains, “I don’t understand a single thing you’ve said the whole time.” If you’re among the heretofore uninitiated drawn to this [...]

  • Loco Films Boards 'Paper Flag' From

    Loco Films Boards 'Paper Flag' From Promising New Director Nathan Ambrosioni (EXCLUSIVE)

    Loco Films has come on board “Paper Flag” (“Les Papiers de drapeaux”), the feature debut of 18-year old French director Nathan Ambrosioni. The film explores the ambivalent relationship between two siblings and the concept of freedom. Guillaume Gouix (“The Returned”) stars as a young adult who has just got out of jail after 12 years [...]

  • 'Who Will Write Our History' Review:

    Film Review: 'Who Will Write Our History'

    The most famous diarist of the Holocaust, Anne Frank, began to write down the drama of her daily life with no ulterior motive (apart from her teenage ambition to write fiction). But in March 1944, the year before she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, she heard a radio broadcast by a member of the [...]

  • Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer

    Film News Roundup: 'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Trailer Sets Sony Pictures Record

    In today’s film news roundup, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” sets a studio record, Chris Meledandri and Glenn Close are honored, an art-house streaming service is unveiled, and “Cliffs of Freedom” gets a release. TRAILER STATS More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ Film Review: 'Who Will Write Our History' The first “Spider-Man: Far From [...]

  • Frank Grillo Hell on the Border

    Frank Grillo to Star in the Thriller 'Hell on the Border'

    Frank Grillo is set to star in the action-thriller “Hell on the Border” with Wes Miller directing. Miller also penned the script with Curtis Nichouls, Henry Penzi, and Sasha Yelaun producing. Ron Perlman is also on board to co-star. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Dragon Ball Super: Broly’ Film Review: 'Who Will Write Our History' Plot [...]

  • Lee Unkrich Variety Oscars Nominees Lunch

    'Toy Story 3,' 'Coco' Director Lee Unkrich to Exit Pixar After 25 Years

    Lee Unkrich, who won Academy Awards for “Toy Story 3” and “Coco,” is departing Pixar Animation Studios after 25 years to spend more time with his family. Unkrich joined Pixar in 1994 after working as an assistant editor in television on “Silk Stalkings” and “Renegade.” He served as editor on Pixar’s first feature, 1995’s “Toy [...]

  • Velvet Buzzsaw trailer

    Netflix Original Movies: What to Look Forward To in 2019

    Following the biggest fourth-quarter worldwide subscriber gain ever and some controversy around increased prices in the U.S., Netflix looks to keep its momentum going into 2019. From Jan. 18 through March, the streaming site will release 10 original films, including action-packed thrillers, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, quirky comedies, inspirational dramas, an artistic horror movie and a viral [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content