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FILMS / REVIEWS

Review: Guerilla

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- György Mór Kárpáti directs a promising, atmospheric and minimalist first feature about a guerilla in full flight through the heart of the forest in 1849

Review: Guerilla
Gergely Váradi in Guerilla

"We are no worse than anyone else. We’re just in the throes of war, that's all." It’s with this  opening statement that György Mór Kárpáti clearly sets the tone of Guerilla [+see also:
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, which is released in Hungarian theatres by Mozinet today. What follows doesn’t really fit with any sort of heroic morality, and this early clue leads us away from any sort of spectacular heroic action and more towards a certain atmosphere and realism, which unfolds in almost real time within a small isolated group in the wilderness, with the director preferring to focus on the unsaid and the meaning behind facial expressions. An approach that leaves the narrative open to interpretation, false leads and suspense, and one that proves to be a skilful means of tackling a topical subject, a genre that is generally avoided by newcomers, especially given budget limitations. 

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It’s August 1849. A man crosses a field, under the heat of the sun, surrounded by buzzing insects and chirping birds, he picks his way through dense forest before discovering a pile of corpses. Intercepted further along his route by soldiers, he claims to be a seminarian and is forced to witness the execution of a prisoner. Fear reigns as Austrian imperial forces aided by the Tsarist Russian army crush Hungarians who took up arms a year earlier in order to gain independence in the Habsburg Empire. Hunted down and divided, warn out guerrilla troops now hide in the forests. Our man, Barnabás (Gergely Váradi), is looking for his younger brother, Antal (Benett Vilmányi), who is committed to the independence movement. He wants to persuade him to join their family who have fled to Miskolc after the fire in their city. He also knows that Görgey, an important member of the rebellion, surrendered on 13 August. That’s all he is able to tell Captain Sándor Csont when he stumbles across his small company hidden in the depths of the forest and valleys, with whom he spends his days while Antal recovers from an injury. While they make their way through the forest, Barnabas initially fails to answer the question about whether or not he participated in the fight, but soon states that he was a sergeant in the militia, an obvious lie that he begs his brother to corroborate while developing a discreet connection with a nurse (Blanka Meszaros) who Antal also likes. As the days drag on, the tension rises, the food decreases and the threat of the Cossacks lingers close by...

Brutal battle field surgery, a campfire in the dead of night, soldiers here one moment and gone the next, gathering fire wood, hunting, unexpected ambushes, killed and buried prisoners, redistributed uniforms riddled with bullet holes, instant idyll, and even childbirth for the captain's wife: György Mór Kárpáti paints a realistic portrait of the life of this small group, which is desperately biding its time on the edge of final defeat. But the air of death lingers more generally throughout the film and in its variety of luxuriant and quivering nature, with the filmmaker capturing the slightest rustle of leaves or the trickle of a stream to perfection. A sensorial experience that allows Guerilla to immerse us in a highly stylised yet fairly minimalist story (but one that is enigmatic enough to maintain our interest), proving that this director is one to watch. 

Produced by Viktória Petrányi for Proton Cinema, Guerilla was executively produced by Kornél Mundruczó and is being sold internationally by The Match Factory.

(Translated from French)

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