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BERLIN 2018 Panorama

Review: Genesis


- BERLIN 2018: Árpád Bogdán's new feature is a bold and striking film that immerses the viewer but struggles with the clarity of certain parts of its narrative

Review: Genesis
Milán Csordás in Genesis

Genesis [+see also:
interview: Árpád Bogdán, Andrea Taschler
film profile
, Hungarian filmmaker Árpád Bogdán's second film, after 2007's Happy New Life [+see also:
film profile
, takes as its basis a 2009 incident in which a group of neo-Nazis attacked a Roma village with Molotov cocktails, fighting dogs and hunting rifles. Split into three chapters focusing on three characters all connected to the attack in various ways, it is a strong sensorial experience that on one hand deeply immerses the viewer in the atmosphere, but does not manage to fully keep its footing on the narrative level. The film world-premiered in the Berlinale's Panorama section. 

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The first chapter is the strongest, and it is named after young Roma boy Ricsi (Milán Csordás), whose father has just been sentenced to two years in prison. Bogdán gives us a living, breathing picture of life in a Roma camp from the boy's perspective, complete with scenes of pig slaughter and sale, burning garbage, a game of football played on a makeshift pitch surrounded by sheep… Until the village is attacked and Ricsi, although hit by buckshot, manages to escape while his mother gets killed.

Ricsi ends up staying with his grandparents and is sure that the village was attacked by a forester about whom he has heard scary stories, so in the boy's mind, he must be the perpetrator. In one of the film's strongest scenes, Ricsi gives up on revenge after seeing the man with his family. 

The second chapter focuses on Virag (Eniko Anna Illesi), a teenage girl training in archery and with a fondness for dogs, which she likes to visit at the kennels managed by Mihaly (Tamas Ravasz). A young man with a troubled and fishy past, he will turn out to be a member of the group that attacked the Roma village. 

The final part, and the one with the least clear narrative, follows Hanna (Anna Marie Cseh), a young attorney tasked with defending Mihaly. All three strands of the story will finally connect when Ricsi is called in as a witness to the trial.

Bogdán's directorial approach aims at immersing the viewer in the film's world, and in this respect it absolutely succeeds. Tamas Dobos' handheld camera is often close to the protagonists, and in some crucial scenes, he does wonders with shifting focus, while in sequences designed to bring us closer to the characters' state of mind, he opts for details such as drops of water on Virag's body in the bathtub, or Hanna's tears. 

Gábor Császár’s sound design is the other, and maybe even more effective, tool in support of the director's vision, and he especially makes imaginative use of the fact that Virag has a hearing aid, in addition to the impressionistic, subjective soundscapes that Ricsi and Hanna are surrounded with. The orchestral score by Bela Tarr's composer, Mihály Víg, is intensely melancholic, at times even bordering on bathetic.

Unfortunately, the complexities of Virag's and Hanna's personalities and pasts are not outlined as convincingly or as clearly as Ricsi's, so while we do get some idea of what drives them, we are also left with unresolved questions that get in the way of fully entering into the film experience as the director intended in the second and third chapters. Still, it is a striking piece of filmmaking that definitely stays with the viewer.

Genesis was co-produced by Hungary's Mirage Film and FocusFox, and HNFF World Sales has the international rights.

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