Delta, by Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó is pervaded by a powerful sense of melancholy and impending doom.
The narrative follows the simple story of a young man who returns home to an isolated village to settle after living in the city for many years. There he meets his grown-up sister for the first time, they bond and she helps him build a house in the stunning Danube delta marshes of the title. Their relationship is not accepted by the locals or their family, which leads to problems.
The film starts and proceeds slowly enough, very aptly, as it really manages to give a sense of time and place and the daily life in the village. It draws you in slowly, almost imperceptibly, and when the action takes a turn you find yourself slapped in the face by the developments.
The sparse dialogue, lyrical visuals, the slow ebb of the delta tide and the soundtrack all conspire to give depth to the characters when you cannot gauge that from the dialogue or their actions. The film could be more voyeuristic, but it is tinged instead with subtle nuances, its narrative moved along by actions rather than explanatory dialogue.
I am not going to tell you whether or not the protagonists’ relationship is actually improper or whether it is the figment of an overactive collective imagination, but suffice to say that this is not really a story about incest, rather about social acceptance and conformity – or lack of it. It is about finding your own utopian world in which you can exist happily: the house in the marshes is a place where you can be who you are and be untouched by the mores of a society you don’t belong to.
The tragic denouement of the movie echoes the banquet scene in Buñuel’s Viridiana: the grotesque peasants carry a feral, destructive quality which brings the narrative to an unsettling but understated finale.
One last curiosity: the soundtrack has been composed by the lead actor, Félix Lajkó, who won an award for it at Cannes 2008, a score composed on – and inspired by – its hauntingly beautiful location.
Delta opens in the UK on May 8th.